Utah Policy Makers Want to Push a Toll Hike Higher

Utah's I-15 express lanes are suffering PM peak-hour congestion. The maximum charge is $1 per zone. The Transportation Commission will vote to double it, but the chair of a key legislative committee suggests charging "what the market will bear."

"Utah legislators raised questions Wednesday about a proposal to double the tolls on Interstate 15 express lanes — saying they may need to be even higher to cut congestion," reports Lee Davidson for The Salt Lake Tribune on Oct. 4. 

State highway officials last month proposed doubling the flexible tolls — upping the $1 maximum per section [pdf] charge to $2, depending on traffic. The Utah Transportation Commission is considering the plan, and may vote as early as next week.

Several transportation commission members earlier suggested a maximum toll of $3 or even $5, saying even $2 was too low to really reduce congestion.

Carpooling is priority

The primary purpose of the lanes, also referred to as High Occupancy Vehicle (not High Occupancy Toll) lanes is to entice motorists to carpool "so the general-purpose lanes function better,” explained Shane Marshall, deputy director of the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).

"It does that by trying to maintain [express lane] speeds of at least 55 mph," adds Davidson. However, speeds have dropped to 31 mph shortly after 5 p.m.

Clean fuel vehicles

A secondary priority is to provide an incentive for consumers to purchase hybrid and electric vehicles eligible for a Clean Fuel Vehicle Decal and Permit, though UDOT has placed a cap of 6,650 decals which has already been reached.

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, raised one more option for consideration — eliminating the toll-paying, single-passenger cars from express lanes to allow more use by clean-fuel vehicles.

Final say: legislature

The Transportation Commission's recommendation goes to the legislature for final approval. Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, chairman of the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee, also doubted that a $1 hike would be sufficient to maintain the 55 mph traffic flow.

He encouraged considering “charging the maximum the market will bear” not only to reduce congestion, but perhaps to raise some money for highways. 

Stephenson also asked if UDOT has considered requiring at least three occupants — instead of two — to carpool in the express lane for free.

Marshall indicated that wasn't yet an option, but didn't rule it out in the future.

Tolls are not meant to be revenue-maker

Marshall said UDOT isn’t seeking to make money through tolls, only to cover costs of that program and help keep down congestion enough so that carpoolers may travel at least 55 mph.

Carpool cheating is rampant

Cheating, where ineligible vehicles, i.e., single-occupant vehicles without  Express Pass transponders, is the highest in the country, according to UDOT. Stephenson states the violation rate is 20 percent. However, a June 2017 Mercury News article indicates that the violation rate is 30 percent in Silicon Valley.

Hat tip to AASHTO Daily Transportation Update.

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Published on Wednesday, October 4, 2017 in The Salt Lake Tribune