Consideration of Congestion Pricing and Managed Lanes in Metropolitan Transportation Planning

By William R. Loudon, DKS Associates

The following is a summary of a paper to be presented at the ITE Western District 2010 Annual Meeting in San Francisco, June 27-30, 2010.  The full paper will be published in the 2010 Compendium of Technical Papers.


Under the Federal Highway Administration’s sponsorship, DKS Associates conducted a national scan of how agencies in major metropolitan areas are developing plans for congestion pricing and managed lanes that involve pricing.  Staff members from the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and the State Departments of Transportation (State DOT) in ten metropolitan areas were surveyed to find out how they are considering these types of projects in their metropolitan planning process and in the development of their Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) for the region. In addition, the study team identified the projects that are already in operation in each region, those that are already in the MTP, and those that are being considered.  Figure 1 indentifies all of the congestion pricing and managed lane projects in the U.S. at the time of the study and the ten case-study locations.

Figure 1 Location of Congestion Pricing and Managed Lanes Projects and Case Studies

Results of the Scan

The scan indicated that most congestion pricing or managed lanes projects are initiated and advocated for by agencies within the metropolitan area and are incorporated into the MTP and the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) by the MPO as updates of these documents occur.  Most of the projects already implemented had not been initiated by the MTP-development process itself.  Projects were most often initiated by the State DOT, but in some cases it was a public or private consortium as in Virginia or the County Congestion Management Agency (CMA). This is the case for many new California projects.

The scan also demonstrated that there is growing interest in using congestion pricing as both a revenue-generating and congestion management tool.  Regional studies have already been initiated in five of the metropolitan areas surveyed, including San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, where a HOT lane network is also being included in the MTP.

Lessons Learned

The ten metropolitan areas surveyed provided many useful lessons:

Evaluation of Congestion Pricing and Managed Lanes Options

Congestion management benefits were ultimately at least as important as revenue generation.

Congestion pricing and managed lanes projects should be evaluated from a systems perspective.

Incorporation into the Metropolitan Planning process

Developing successful projects may require some policy tradeoffs.

The metropolitan planning process should allow for projects to emerge individually as a result of corridor studies, but also regionally coordinated in a network approach.

Managed lanes projects that cross several State DOT districts and/or MPOs create extra management and communication challenges with respect to allocation of toll revenues.

Involving the Private Sector as a Partner

Public-private partnerships may be important to the financial viability of congestion pricing or managed lanes projects, but the complexity of the partnerships can be challenging.

There can be so much enthusiasm for the revenue generation that public agencies are willing to give away too much in negotiation of public-private ventures.

Private consortia do not necessarily have to take network effects into account.  There needs to be public-sector regional oversight to make sure that these effects are taken into account.

The reported lessons learned from the agencies surveyed indicate that continued support for the assessment of congestion pricing and managed lanes projects in a multi-modal and network context will be important for continued consideration and implementation of these of projects in the U.S.  The support can come in the form of additional encouragement through guidance documents and descriptions of exemplary practices and also in the form of recommendations as part of the MPO certification reviews.  Support could also be in the form of grants to aid regional planning for congestion pricing and managed lanes projects.  The Value Pricing Pilot Program has been a valuable program for encouraging a regional approach.  There should be continued support for the enhancement of the modeling tools maintained by MPOs to improve their sensitivity to congestion pricing.