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Tolling Points

DC Beltway CEOs Urge Boston to Consider Congestion Pricing

By: 
Bill Cramer

A civic organization comprised of CEOs in the Capital Region of Washington, DC, Baltimore and Richmond is impressed enough with the performance of the area’s congestion pricing system that it’s advising Boston on how to get the greatest mobility out of aging surface transportation infrastructure.

It’s been seven years since Northern Virginia introduced managed lanes on the Beltway, and additional projects later followed on I-95, I-395, and I-66, writes Jason Miller, CEO of the Greater Washington Partnership. The system has improved coordination across a highly congested region, prevented the transportation system from holding back the area’s economic potential, and earned bipartisan support from Republican Governor Hogan in Maryland and a Democratic Administration in Virginia.

“Any thoughtful transportation strategy requires investments across modes, but one key ingredient, particularly for longstanding urban centers, is to better utilize the existing roadway and highway network,” Miller notes. “Something that is gaining traction throughout our region is performance-driven tolling, a tool which, when deployed correctly, results in less congestion, faster speeds, and more predictable travel times,” while creating incentives for users to “divert trips to nonpeak periods, carpool, or opt for public transportation.”

It’s Not About the Revenue

Miller emphasizes that Virginia’s managed lane projects are primarily about operational efficiency, with the dollars the system collects treated as a secondary goal or a means to achieve a higher purpose.

“In Virginia, the primary focus of the tolls is not to raise revenue, but rather to provide better options and improve the efficient movement of people and goods,” he states. “By using the power and simplicity of pricing a portion of the roadway capacity, ranging on average from $4 to $8 for the Beltway, I-95, and I-66, performance-driven tolling provides commuters with a reliable trip option on what were once congested, traffic-choked corridors.”

And nothing succeeds like success.

“The express lanes on the Beltway have saved the average commuter more than 25 minutes each way, and more than 100,000 HOV commuters and bus riders benefit from the faster travel of the toll lane free of charge every day,” Miller writes. “Similarly, on I-66, inside the Beltway, speeds have increased by more than 20% over the past year for all vehicles, and toll revenues have supported new or expanded bus service. Performance-driven tolls from I-66 alone have raised about $17 million for public transit service.”

More of a Good Thing

The Greater Washington Partnership is so pleased with the region’s managed lane network that its Capital Region Blueprint for Regional Mobility is now calling for broader deployment across the region. And Miller suggests Boston develop a similar strategy to reduce roadway congestion and advance its economic prospects.

“There is no silver bullet to improving the region’s transportation system,” he acknowledges. “However, properly pricing our congested roads to best manage demand and improve connections and options is proving to be a critical piece of an effective transportation solution set.”

The shift from individual managed lanes to wider networks is one of the emerging topics on the agenda at IBTTA’s Annual Technology Summit, March 31-April 2, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. Be there!