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Managed Lanes Networks Gaining Traction, as Projects Proliferate

A small but growing number of very large US metro areas are moving toward the creation of networks of priced managed lanes, generally including incentives for car-pooling. Miami and San Francisco are among the leaders, with continued study in Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

As 2013 draws to a close, the Miami urbanized area seems to be moving fastest to implement such a network. The initial Express Lanes on I-95 in Miami have demonstrated large benefits for auto commuters and express bus service alike, building public support for expanding the concept to other expressways. Under construction and set to open in 2014 are the next two projects: Phase 2 of the I-95 project extending the Express Lanes nearly 14 miles to Fort Lauderdale, and the reversible express lanes being added to a rebuilt I-595 near Fort Lauderdale. Florida DOT has green-lighted two more projects to begin early in 2014, adding new express lanes to I-75 in Broward County and to the north-south portion of the Palmetto Expressway in Miami-Dade County. Florida's Turnpike will be adding variably-priced express lanes to a major portion of its Homestead Extension in southern Miami-Dade County. Future projects not yet through the planning and approval process include extending the I-95 express lanes further north to Boca Raton and eventually West Palm Beach and a Miami-Dade Expressway Authority project to add express toll lanes to its congested Dolphin Expressway. (For more details, go to www.tollroadsnews.com/node/6711.) 

Florida DOT finalized its statewide managed lanes implementation plan in July 2013, providing common ground-rules for projects not only in Miami but also Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa. The major project getting under way in Orlando is for 20 miles of express lanes for congested I-4. 

Detailed plans for a region-wide managed lanes network in Atlanta have been scaled back due to political objections and limited funding, but two key building blocks are moving forward. In the northwestern suburbs, a contractor has been selected and a TIFIA loan approved for the $834 million project to add reversible managed lanes to I-75 and I-575. And in the southeastern suburbs, another project will add managed lanes to that portion of I-75. 

In the Washington, DC metro area, a two-year study by the Transportation Planning Board evaluated three different pricing options to deal with the region's chronic traffic congestion. By far the most popular was a 500-mile network of priced managed lanes on all the major freeways, including express-bus/BRT service. It won 60% support from 300 metro-area residents who were engaged in "extended conversations" with TPB staff during the project. By contrast, only 10% supported a plan to use in-vehicle GPS boxes to charge per mile for using the freeways, while a plan for cordon tolls to enter business districts won 50% support (but also strong opposition). The study also found overwhelming agreement (91%) that congestion is a critical problem for the region. The TPB "is advancing the new version of the express toll lanes scenario as one of two long-term strategies in its Regional Transportation Priorities Plan. 

The Chicago metro area is not as far along, but the Illinois DOT is seriously considering adding express toll lanes to the Eisenhower Expressway. As of this fall, it is still soliciting public feedback on four alternatives for the lane-addition project. In addition to express toll lanes, they include doing the new lanes as general-purpose lanes, as HOV lanes, or as part of converting the entire expressway to a HOT tollway. 

San Francisco, with several express toll lane projects already in operation, is taking the first major steps toward its long-planned managed lanes network. In September it began procurement of toll systems for the first 90 miles of a projected 270-mile initial network. The Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority (a joint powers authority formed by the MPO and the Bay Area Toll Authority) is handling the procurement. The initial projects will be 34 miles on I-880 and two bridge approaches in Alameda County, 12 miles on I-680 in Contra Costa County, and 11 miles on I-80 in Solano County. The single-lane-per direction express lanes will be mostly conversions of existing HOV lanes, and these initial projects are planned to be in operation by 2016 (I-680) and 2017 (I-880 and I-80). (Details at www.tollroadsnews.com/node/6746.) 

The Los Angeles area MPO has not yet officially reached consensus on a five-county managed lanes network, but additional pieces of what will be the network are in various stages of moving forward. Getting under construction early in 2014 will be the $1.3 billion widening of SR 91 in Riverside County, extending the existing express lanes from the Orange County line eastward beyond I-15. Riverside County plans a similar project on I-15 itself, and San Bernardino County is debating a plan to add managed lanes to I-10 and I-15. Orange County officials are struggling to gain approval on a major project to add managed lanes to a long stretch of I-405, from the John Wayne Airport to the Los Angeles County line. And in LA County itself, LA Metro's first highway PPP project includes adding managed lanes to a stretch of I-5 in the northern part of the county. 

Other managed lane network plans are in various stages in Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Diego, and Seattle. 

This article also appears in Robert Poole’s Surface Transportation Newsletter #122.

Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy


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