Florida's Turnpike doing variable toll managed lanes plus fixed toll lanes on Veterans Tampa, HEFT in Miami

October 27, 2012

2012-10-26: Florida's Turnpike Enterprise is the first toller in America to commit to implement dual pricing - a mix of variably priced express lanes and regular fixed price lanes in the same toll highway. The first is likely to be on the FL589 Veterans Expressway in the Tampa area which is being widened from 2 to 4 lanes each direction. The second two-pricer will be on the Homewood Extension of the Turnpike or HEFT, the big north-south expressway on the western edge of the Miami metro area.

Turnpike CEO Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti told us in a telephone interview today that this approach fits in with regional plans for managed lanes networks and gives patrons choices. They can enjoy a fixed toll rate in the general use toll lanes, or for a higher toll they can be guaranteed a smooth, free flow ride by any congestion in fixed toll lanes. Variable pricing is used to price out enough of any excess vehicles to prevent overload and keep traffic moving in the premium lanes.

Left unsaid is that it is probably easier to gain public acceptance of variable toll rates with drivers given the option to keep in flat rate toll lanes.

The Turnpike got heavy local publicity in the Miami area this week after Scaccetti won a 12-1 vote of approval from local officials at the Miami Dade Metro Plan Organization Wednesday.

So the HEFT mixed tolling is a goer.

Vets 589 got approval quietly

The dual pricing on the FL589 Veterans Expressway was more quietly approved in September (CORRECTION) by government officials in Tampa, Scaccetti told us, and the first stretch could be operating there in 2016. This will be a single toll managed lane each direction. The other extra lane being built in the widening of the Vets pike will go to fixed toll payers.

So two general toll lanes each direction will be converted to three general toll lanes plus one variably priced managed lane for a big increase in  capacity.

Separate pricing will begin on six miles of the HEFT late 2017 (US1 to FL874) when the first stretches of a widening of the HEFT are complete, and another five miles for a total of 11 miles north to FL836 Dolphin Expressway) should be in dual priced operation by 2020.

The first 6 mile segment from just south of US1 (Caribbean Boulevard) to Kendall southwest of downtown Miami will be widened from 4 to 6 lanes each direction. 4 lanes will remain general use toll lanes each direction and the extra two lanes each direction will be variably price managed lanes.

Three years later the variably priced HEFT lanes will be extended - just a  single lane each direction from Kendall to the FL836 Dolphin Expressway interchange - the Miami Dade Expressway Authority's busiest tollroad by far - going past the airport and into downtown and the port.

Dolphin later?

There's a possibility MDX may do dual pricing on the Dolphin 836 pike. A network study for the region called Integrated Congestion Pricing Plan suggests this. A Reason  Foundation study by Bob Poole and others proposed it last year.

MDX's immediate plans on the FL836 Dolphin are completing a huge new 4 level interchange with the FL826 Palmetto Exwy, then a changeover to all-electronic tolling, and addition of an auxiliary lane eastbound to ease weaving problems.

Scaccetti said the express lanes are intended for longer distance travelers. She said detailed study will determine the number and type of entry-exit points. Some design features may be up to design-build contractors to suggest in their bids.

The pattern seems to be that the express lanes will only have access/egress points every 5 miles or so simplifying the project and making it more economical than express lanes projects with more frequent arrangements to get in and out.

"Not like Capital Beltway"

It is not at all like the Capital Beltway 495 Express Lanes, Scaccetti said, with frequent dedicated ramps. Traffic patterns are very different in Miami on the HEFT.

Complexity of civil construction will come as an express lanes network evolves and some dedicated ramps are needed to connect one set of express lanes to another.

The HEFT went all-electronic/cashless about 18 months ago (February 19, 2011) and got a new modern toll system then. Scaccetti said they may need some longer gantries and dynamic toll rate signage but on the HEFT they may be able to use the existing system contractor. A decision on that will be taken closer to opening.

On the Veterans Expressway they still have cash collection but the widening project will coincide with the end of cash. An all-electronic system will be designed to cater for the dynamic and fixed toll rates pricing  from start-up.

Vets a commuter road

The Veterans is almost entirely a commuter road, predominantly cars and a very high penetration of transponder tolling - all factors that should ease a transition. The HEFT has a richer mix of traffic, and more trucks.

Trucks will not be allowed in the express lanes.

The 2x2 Express Lanes on I-95 north of Miami (95 Express) have apparently been a great success and they are being extended. Their popularity probably helped the acceptance of the dual pricing on the tollroads.

Traffic in the HEFT where the dual pricing project will start is about 165k vehicles/day, quite similar to I-95 in the managed lanes section. Volumes on the Veterans FL589 are not much less (CORRECTION).

LOS-E to LOS-C modelled

A presentation by Scaccetti to the MDMPO says the current level of service (LOS) is E with peak hour speeds often below 35mph. They estimate the widening and dual pricing will produce ablaut LOS-C for several years. But there are limits to the ability to add capacity without horrendously expensive elevated or below ground construction and their modeling suggests the variable pricing may be needed  as early as 2023 to maintain throughput on the HEFT.

They need to plan and build for that now, she urges.

The presentation suggests they'll have continuous pavement across six lanes each direction and use the flexible bang-through/bang-up fence posts to separate the express from the fixed toll rate lanes, but allow emergency vehicles through.

Her presentation says the variably priced lanes  will reduce congestion, make better use of roadway by maintaining traffic flow and save construction dollars.

Bob Poole of Reason and Clifford Winston of Brookings Institution have long argued that tollroads should do dual pricing - higher tolls for those who value a quick trip highly, and lower tolls for those in less of a hurry. That helps match service better to customer needs, and aligns charges better to benefits received.

And it will probably help that it raises more toll revenue than flat rate pricing.

There is no news release yet on any of this, but Turnpike people were obviously pleased  to talk about it.

TOLLROADSnews 2012-10-26

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