Members of Congress from congested urban areas, such as Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, San Diego and others are already familiar with Express Lanes, tolling technology’s latest evolution. These lanes, such as the 495 Express Lanes on the west side of the Capital Beltway, improve mobility by allowing single-occupant vehicles to use excess capacity otherwise reserved for high-occupancy vehicles, all while maintaining traffic flow at highway speeds. Tolling in these lanes is dynamic: As more vehicles enter the Express Lanes the price goes up, discouraging others from entering the lanes until usage ebbs. Motorists decide if their time is worth the added cost to use the lanes. These managed lanes offer a choice, allowing drivers to get where they need to go faster and more reliably. For a fee.
There are also plenty of good examples of how toll revenues are used to support transit in the same corridor. The Dulles Toll Road is just one local example of how a toll road can fund the development of a multi-modal corridor. Other tolled facilities, such as I-15 in San Diego, use revenues to support rapid bus transit along the same corridor.
Technology’s advance also is making distance-based pricing viable. Imagine scrapping the gas tax altogether and paying only for the miles you drive? This concept is being studied in Oregon today.
Tolling naysayers are entitled to their viewpoints and counterpoints, but the fact is our infrastructure is in dire need of billions of dollars of improvement. We should consider forward-thinking options, such as tolling, to help pay these enormous costs, and offer motorists a way to get where they need to go with less congestion and more reliability.
New technologies and techniques present state and federal policy makers with tools to help solve a vexing problem: the maintenance and improvement of transportation infrastructure that is vital to our nation’s economy.
Relying on Congress during an election year to replenish the Highway Trust Fund with an increase of the gas tax or closure of tax loopholes is simply unrealistic. Add to this the evolution of technology which enables tolls to be collected safely and efficiently without stopping and it’s time to face reality and come out from behind the veil of an anti-toll animus.
All options are — and should be — on the table as transportation leaders discuss creative approaches to improve our mobility and our economy. President Barack Obama and his administration are facing reality: Real problems with our infrastructure require real solutions including real choices.
Daniel Papiernik is mid-Atlantic toll practice leader for HNTB Corporation in Arlington.