Monday, October 5, 2009

3 Success Stories of HOT Lanes -- Oahu Is Missing out on Real Congestion Relief

1. FLORIDA: (Miami Herald) The Florida Department of Transportation has claimed victory against chronic traffic congestion on Interstate 95 northbound thanks to the new toll express lanes.

Motorists who use the two variable-toll express lanes now travel at an average speed of 56 mph during rush hour -- 36 mph faster than before the lanes opened. Even drivers who use the four free lanes are traveling faster at peak times, the report said -- 42 mph instead of 20 mph.

Congestion reducing results like this are typical for HOT lane deployments in the nation. However, client-focused Parsons Brinkerhoff managed to model HOT lanes in the Honolulu Alternatives Analysis in a way that HOT lanes performed far worse than existing conditions. A first in the nation. I strongly objected to their methods and findings but the Alternatives Analysis panel voted 6-1 in approving PB's analysis that killed HOT lanes for Honolulu in November 2006.

Back to Florida, the average weekday toll is 90 cents, with an average rush-hour toll of $1.85 and an average off-peak toll of 47 cents. (Remember that during the 2008 elections Hannemann said that tolls are 10 dollars?)

Southbound express lanes, now under construction, are expected to open later this year or in early 2010.


2. MINNESOTA: U.S. DOT Secretary LaHood inaugurated the second HOT lane project in the twin cities. The HOT Lanes on Interstate 35W project is one of the first nationwide to make use of all lanes, including the shoulder, during peak travel periods to provide drivers the option of taking a less-congested path, according to FHWA.

While the interstate previously had High Occupancy Vehicle lanes open to carpools and buses, this project converted them into High Occupancy Toll lanes with pricing based on demand. The Minnesota DOT also converted shoulders into Priced Dynamic Shoulder Lanes, which allow buses and carpools to use them at no charge while also permitting access during peak times to low-occupancy vehicles willing to pay a toll.

The U.S. DOT provided $133 million for this project with Federal Highway Administration funding lane conversions and tolling technology, the Federal Transit Administration paying for Bus Rapid Transit facilities and Park & Ride lots, and the Research and Innovative Technology Administration offering grants for the operational test period of the new tolling equipment.

This is Minnesota's second highway with HOT lanes. The I-394 express lanes opened in 2005. Prices range from 25 cents per trip when traffic is light to as much as $8 during heavy peak-period traffic. MnDOT's goal is to keep traffic in the express lanes moving at a minimum of 50 mph.

Note that few motorists pay the maximum toll. When maximum toll is displayed, it actually has the purpose of discouraging more vehicles from entering the HOT lanes so that free flow conditions can be maintained.


3. NATIONAL: Quantified Advantages of HOT Lanes

In the September 2009 issue of the Journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers senior planner Decorla-Souza and senior engineer Halkias of the U.S. DOT quantify the advantage of turning shoulders of 6 lane freeways (3 lanes per direction) into HOT lanes. Their example fits the H-1 freeway like a glove because their case is for a chronically congested 6-lane freeway.

In the base case (or existing conditions) the peak direction carries 6,930 vehicles per hour. With the managed shoulder open, the freeway would carry 7,200 vehicles per hour, or a 4% gain.

The huge difference is in the average speeds which improve from 29 mph in the base case (much lower for H-1 fwy.) to 33 mph for the general lanes and 55 mph for the HOT lane for a grand average of 38 mph or 31% improvement in speed.

In comparison, the proposed rail for Honolulu won't provide any such congestion relief.

Using a cost of gasoline at (only) $2.50 per gallon and a value of time at $14.60 the combined savings in time and fuel due to the addition of a single HOT lane comes to $16 million per year. In addition, the modified freeway with one HOT lane (for an assumed length of 10 miles) will decrease greenhouse gases by 7%.

In comparison, the proposed rail for Honolulu won't provide any such pollution reduction.