How Dallas will do managed HOT lanesTonight is a quick pass-along from Bob Poole's Surface Transportation Innovations newsletter on two different approaches to running managed/high-occupancy-toll lanes, with the benefits of one over the other and Dallas' choice of the better one. I'm not sure what Houston's plan is (starting with the managed lanes down the middle of the new I-10), but we're both in Texas under TXDoT, so I'm assuming it will probably go in a similar direction.
What Kind of Managed Lanes?
On a number of occasions this year I have given a presentation before transportation groups contrasting two different models for priced managed lanes (whether called HOT lanes or something else. Model 1, as I call it, conceives of the lanes essentially as HOV lanes that sell any excess capacity to paying customers. Their purpose is to maximize ride-sharing, helping to meet the goal of reducing peak-period driving. Model 2, by contrast, conceives of the lanes as congestion-relievers, offering fast, reliable, trips to paying customers, and as incidentally assisting in various transit and ride-sharing goals (e.g., by letting buses and vanpools use the lanes at no charge).
The differences I summarized may not sound like much, but they make an enormous difference. Model 1 projects, because they give top priority to car-pooling, generally let as many HOV-2s as possible use the lanes, even to the point of excluding any paying customers. That’s just what happens in some of the HOT lane feasibility studies I’ve reviewed for several large metro areas recently: precisely at the busiest peak periods, when congestion relief is needed most and people are willing to pay the highest price, the lanes are shown as generating zero revenue, because demand for HOV-2s must be accommodated.
It’s this kind of nonsense that leads some to conclude that “HOT lanes can only generate enough revenue to pay for operating and maintenance costs, not for capital costs.” And because building a network of HOT lanes in a large congested urban area would be a multi-billion-dollar effort, it’s clear that as long as Model 1 prevails, we aren’t going to see anything like HOT networks get built. Whereas, we already know that the Model 2 approach in Orange County is paying the entire capital cost of those four new lanes, as will the Model 2 approach being planned for the Washington, DC-area Beltway HOT lanes.
I’m pleased to report that the
Several other details are worth noting. Once the system goes to dynamic (market-based) pricing, drivers will receive rebates if the average speed drops below 35 mph. And there will be no discounts for “green” vehicles—a proper distinction between transportation finance policy and environmental/energy policy. It’s contemplated that many of these managed lanes will be developed and operated by the private sector under long-term partnership or concession agreements. The policy recognizes that the length of such agreements should permit developers to maximize their potential revenue. It also acknowledges that pricing will be essential to sustain the performance of the lanes, so that “tolls will remain on the managed lanes” after the PPP agreement terminates.
This is one of the best managed lanes policy statements I’ve seen. Other Metropolitan Planning Organizations that are looking into HOT lanes and HOT networks should take a careful look at this policy.