Tolling to be huge in SF Bay Area with 1300km (800 miles) network committed

April 24, 2009

Regional government in the San Francisco Bay area and the associated public toll authority are now committed to an extensive network of tolled lanes - some 1300km or 800 miles of tolled lanes to be developed out of an existing and planned high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane network at a capital cost of about $4.8b. The commitment came Wednesday (2009-04-22) when the plan was incorporated in the Transportation 2035 plan signifying formal approval by the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) which comprises about 120 local governments.

The regional express lanes network (RELN or HOT or toll lanes) will comprise conversion to tolling of 800km (500 miles) in use, under construction), progressive development of 500km (300 miles) that are planned but not funded, and director connector ramps at six junctions of toll lanes. (This is 800 lane-miles (1300 lane-km) and about 400 centerline-miles (650 centerline kms)

Conversion of the existing network to toll express lanes is estimated to cost $1.4b, while closing gaps and extending the system will cost $3.4b according to the major study

The network will cover parts of

- US101 north
- I-80
- I-680
- CA4
- I-580
- I-880
- CA237
- US 101 south
- I-280
- CA87
- CA85

Reports by the MTC emphasize the importance of the network approach. They say a performance audit has found that two thirds of potential travel benefits of existing HOV lanes are lost at gaps in the system where motorists are forced to merge with other traffic. Funding is so short for the untolled HOV lanes a network can't be completed for 25 to 35 years.

Changes from the existing HOV lanes proposed in the 'full featured' toll or HOT lanes network include limiting access by organizing specified access and egress zones the remainder being divided from regular lanes by double yellow striping and a 1.2m (4ft) striped buffer. Per mile cost estimates for the full featured approach assume some extra right of way and paving, merge and diverge lanes, some modification of ramps and bridging to meet the higher physical standard on a consistent basis plus enforcement bays for cops.

Likely toll rates

The lanes would be managed to maintain a minimum Level of Service C. Whenever traffic densities approached this threshold toll rates would be increased from base rates to allow traffic flows to be maintained. MTC say that typically peakhour motorists would pay 20 to 60c/mile (12c to 37c/km) in 2015 and 50c to $1/mile (30c to 60c/km) in 2030 for the reliable, speedy trip. In corridors in greatest demand rates could go higher.

When capacity runs out

Initially the network will consist of a single lane each direction, but as toll traffic is increasingly priced out of the lanes, decisions will need to be made whether to raise the carpool (HOV) occupancy requirement, or add a lane.

Dual lane arrangements may be built in locations of strongest demand, the major report says.

In cases where there is strong enough HOV demand tolling may be deferred. I-80 northeast of the Bay Bridge is cited as a place where strong carpool demand may keep the lane HOV.

At some point the HOV requirement may be raised to 4 occupants for free trips, or even to large vans and buses.

In all cases the objective will be to maintain the lane flowing efficiently and reliably through peak times to prevent queueing and backups.

MTC's reports estimates the full featured system should be self financing 2015 to 2035 with toll revenue covering operations, maintenance and debt service. A low estimate (tolls averaging $400m/yr) shows a small shortfall, and a high estimate (tolls averaging $570m/yr) show a major surplus available to pay for other transportation purposes. (see HOT network cost and revenues.)

Pooling revenues

MTC proposes to pool revenues allowing some to run a surplus and carry others which may run at a loss. The timing and phasing in of new segments may be adjusted to limit losses.

Their report says setting tolls somewhat below - at about 84% - revenue maximizing rates will maximize overall highway efficiency.

There are no plans to exempt hybrid vehicles from tolls as this could reduce revenues by anything between 5 and 40%.

Tolling better for general purpose lanes than HOV

Modelling shows the toll express lanes will allow average speeds in general purpose lanes of 39mph (63km/hr) and 54mph (87km/hr) in the morning peak in design year 2035, whereas HOV lanes would only allow 32mph (52km/hr) in general purpose lanes and 56mph (90km/hr) in the HOV lanes.

Tolled lanes reduce congestion and increase average speeds as compared to free plus HOV lanes so have environmental benefits - estimated at 10% reduction in particulates, 7% reduced CO2, 3% reduced NOx, 2% lower volatile organics.

MTC is pushing for legislation to provide for regional control over the network.

Tolling will use the present Title 21 standard passive transponders already in use in tolling throughout the state.

"Tremendous" benefits compared to HOV lanes

The report says there are "tremendous" benefits from building toll or HOT lanes as compared to carpool lanes funded with tax money. We quote:

"Compared to building the carpool system on a pay-as-you-go basis, the Regional HOT Network reduces aggregate travel time for two reasons. First, as described above, the Regional HOT Network can be completed 25 to 35 years faster than the carpool network, eliminating
bottlenecks and offering congestion relief sooner on segments where carpool lanes do not currently exist. Second, the HOT Network makes more efficient use of freeway capacity by ensuring carpool lanes are well-used; this tends to increase speeds in the general-purpose lanes and reduce aggregate travel time.

"The potential savings are tremendous. In 2030, the HOT Network would reduce person hours of travel by 78 to 86 million hours compared to the less-complete carpool system. Between 2010 and 2050, the Regional HOT Network could generate cumulative travel time savings between 2.5 to 3.4 billion person hours. This travel time savings has an estimated economic value of $97 to $155 billion dollars." (end quote)

Rapid delivery option with compromises

A later report looks at getting a complete network of toll lanes in place in as little as seven years by compromising on dimensions of lane width (3.3m, 11ft) and buffer (0.6m, 2ft), providing minimal merge areas, combining access and egress in single zones, staying within existing right of way and doing minimal new paving.

Capital cost for the compromise rapid delivery network is put at slightly less than half the cost of the fully featured system. It is considerably stronger financially, especially in the early years - because continuity and networking benefits are gained more quickly. It generates over $8b of net revenue even on the lower revenue estimate. The financial estimates are based on borrowing the capital (40 year bonds) at 6.5%.

With the rapid delivery low cost ($3.7b) network capital and financing costs are less than half projected revenues. After operating and maintenance costs net revenues (profits) are an average $254m/year.

Even with a worst case scenario and revenues one eight of those projected the network would be financeable with five years of negative cash flow, the report says.

We quote in full: "The travel time savings offered by the 'rapid delivery' HOT Network compared to the 'full feature' HOT network are smaller but still significant, totaling nearly 800 million person hours between 2010 and 2050. The economic value of this savings is estimated to be roughly $18 billion. Most of travel time savings occur between 2015, as the 'rapid delivery' network nears completion, and 2025, when the 'full feature' network can be completed."

Doing repaving with conversion

The report proposes that typically HOV lanes be repaved as part of the conversion to toll lanes:

- to allow electrical conduits for toll equipment to be installed,

- to prepare a clean surface for new striping, and

- to provide a tangible 'ride' benefit to motorists when the facility opens with tolls.

Parsons Brinckerhoff were the major consultants to MTC for the studies.

see many reports and presentations:

see major Dec 2008 report:

see Feb 2009 Phase 3 report

The first toll express or HOT lane sponsored before the network plan started construction November 2008. On I-680 between CA84 and CA237, 14 miles (23km) it is a single lane southbound known as the Sunol Grade HOT Lane and due to open in 2010.

Also 11 miles (18km) of toll lanes on I-580 Livermore to Pleasanton are under construction to much the same schedule.

The Parsons Brinckerhoff reports assume a fully public tolling approach but MTC presentations show under "Options for faster delivery" various alternatives including:

- design-build-operate-maintain contracts citing Miami's I-95 HOT lanes

- concession citing CA91 Express Lanes and VA/I-495 Capital Beltway HOTs

- various joint powers agreements and combinations

However principles adopted July 2008 specify the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) affiliated with MTC as in charge of toll collection and financing.

State legislation being pushed would give BATA most authority over the development and operation of the toll lanes network.

BACKGROUND: San Francisco Bay Area was the fifth most populous metro area in the US in the 2000 census with 7.04m people.

It follows after New York 21.20m, Los Angeles 16.37m, Chicago 9.16m, Washington DC 7.61m.

San Francisco is ahead of Philadelphia 6.19m, Boston 5.82m, Detroit 5.46m, Dallas 5.22m and Houston 4.67m.

TOLLROADSnews 2009-04-24

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