National Press Club

`Price-managed' lanes cut traffic gridlocks, says Newsmaker urging test

April 22, 2013 | By Heather Forsgren Weaver |

A toll-road proponent urged Congress, at an April 22 National Press Club Newsmaker, to include in the next highway funding bill a pilot project allowing states to convert some traffic lanes to toll roads to alleviate congestion.

Congress should approve a pilot allowing the top-20 urban areas with “severe congestion” to “take some percentage” of non-toll roads and test whether price-managed lanes would reduce gridlock, said Matthew Click, Southeast division director of tolls for HNTB Corp, a consulting firm based in Kansas City, Mo.

Price-managed lanes is the Federal Highway Administration's term for lanes that are financed through varying toll rates to reduce congestion on general-purpose or non-toll lanes. They are usually built in the median of existing highways, and use a pricing structure designed to maintain a minimum travel speed in the lanes.

The lanes are often called express lanes, high-occupancy toll lanes or bus/rapid transit lanes, Click said. There are currently 18 operational systems in 12 states and more than 2,500 miles are being developed, he said.

Currently, no general-purpose lanes have been eliminated in favor of price-managed lanes, which are often converted from high-occupancy vehicle -- or HOV -- lanes. Many congested areas of the country, including the Northeast, lack HOV lanes, Click said.

As a result, "they don’t have the canvas on which to pilot this improvement to the public," he said.

Lack of awareness is a problem for the proponents of price-managed lanes. A recent survey sponsored by HNTB showed 76 percent of the people didn’t know what the lanes were or what their purpose was. After what Click called an “educational campaign,” 74 percent said they would “likely use” the lanes.

Sixty-eight percent of the survey respondents said they were willing to spend $5 to save 15 minutes. The online survey of Americans 18 years or older was conducted in January. It has an error rate of 3.1 percent.

Tolls are a “clear and fair way” to finance road construction because they are “a user fee, not a tax,” said Patrick D. Jones, executive director and chief executive officer of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

Florida successfully converted a little-used HOV lane in Miami-Dade County to two price-managed lanes. The express lanes still allow registered carpool vehicles with three or more people and energy-efficient vehicles to travel free, and others are charged a varying rate based on the congestion in the general lanes, said Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, executive director and chief executive officer of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprises.