Monday, 6 May 2013

Georgia (USA) to introduce pure toll lanes as new capacity

Most "managed lanes" or "express lanes" in the USA are what I'd call pure HOT lanes.  They are tolled, but High Occupancy Vehicles (HOVs - cars with 2 or 3 or more occupants) are allowed to use them for free.  More often than not such lanes are conversions from HOV lanes (also called "transit" or "carpool" lanes).

These are new build lanes.  Brand new capacity.  These are pure toll lanes (although local buses can use them for free), with all cars using them having to pay.  Trucks are not allowed to use them.

Atlanta Forward blog has published a debate on the pros and cons of the I-75 Express lanes project The project is a reversible Express toll lane (between 1 and 2 lanes) between SR 155 and SR 138 along an over 12 mile stretch of the Interstate. It is under development now and will be completed in 2016. 

The lanes will be northbound (towards Atlanta) in the AM peak and southbound in the PM peak. Tolls will be dynamic, so will vary in real time according to demand on the lanes. 

A DSRC transponder will be offered for those wishing to use the lanes, or they may choose to pay after usage with a bill sent to the vehicle owner’s address after the number plate has been captured by cameras. The latter option will be more expensive. All revenues from the lanes will be used to pay the capital costs of the lanes, which are estimated to be US$150 million. Trucks are curiously not allowed to use them. 

It will be interesting indeed to see if the lanes can pay for themselves, as this is rare (and explains why such lanes are rare outside the US – as most HOT/toll lanes are conversions, not new lanes). 

The arguments for the toll lane are: 

- They provide a new option; 

- The new capacity will not get congested as pricing will ensure that; 

- Some will use them every day, but most wont. Only when there is a time sensitive appointment, like a meeting; 

- The lanes benefit other travellers because they will reduce congestion on untolled lanes, and buses will have unhindered trips.

Arguments against tolls on the lanes are: 

- Untolled lanes would be used more; 

- Most users will be local, wealthy, extravagant or late; 

- It’s “UnAmerican” to pay (I actually though it was un-Soviet); 

- Gas tax is fairer because everyone will pay and then other road improvements can be built. 

Naturally I’m supportive of the lanes, because ignoring pricing is ignoring an opportunity for those who want new capacity to have to pay for it. It is also right that people pay for premium service when they need it. Unpriced roads risk congestion, the toll lanes promise a standard of service that the “free” egalitarian public domain roads can’t promise.   

Hopefully Georgians will come to see them as an asset, and that it provides a valuable option.  However, my other interest is whether the lanes will pay for themselves.

If so, they provide a new model for considering how new capacity can be paid for.

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