Will Economists Be the New Highway Men?

Got road congestion? Pricing in the form of managed (don't call them HOT) lanes makes more sense than new construction, according to a panel of transportation experts led by HNTB Corp., reports James Bruckbauer of Michigan Land Use Institute.

2 minute read

August 30, 2013, 8:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

"One of nation’s largest road-building firms, HNTB, recently admitted something transportation advocates have argued for many years: “We can’t build our way out of traffic congestion”, writes Bruckbauer.

For the record, HNTB calls itself an "infrastructure solutions firm". They do more than just road-building, which might explain their "more is not better" approach. Also, they prefer the term, "priced managed lanes" for what have historically been called high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes; more recently, express lanes; and by opponents, Lexus lanes.

By whatever name, these are lanes open to all, regardless of occupancy or vehicle-type, though a variable (based on congestion) toll must be paid by single-occupant-vehicles not driving an "exempt" vehicle. The variable tolls are meant to keep traffic flowing "at least 45 miles per hour and customers are guaranteed a predictable, congestion-free trip" according to HNTB's news release

While a Lexus won't grant you special privilege - a Tesla (or any electric vehicle) may allow you to ride toll-free on many of these priced lanes, just as it may allow access to many carpool lanes regardless of number of occupants. For the Bay Area Express Lanes under development by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission"motorcycles, buses and eligible hybrid vehicles" will drive toll-free.

Bruckbauer writes about an article written by HNTB's new Director of Priced Managed Lanes, Matthew Click, that appears in the current issue of their newsletter, Designer (pg. 22, PDF), that advocates for a pricing approach to accommode peak-hour congestion rather than building more general purpose lanes.

"(Click's) point is clear: We can’t build our way out of congestion. In fact, every 10 percent increase in road space generates a 10 percent increase in traffic within several years", writes Bruckbauer.

However, Click doesn't rule out widening highways to accommodate peak hour traffic per se - he just wants the new lanes to be managed with pricing. How different is this approach from the high occupancy vehicle (HOV or carpool) lane building binge that the highway men went on several decades ago?

Click cites a national America THINKS survey that "showed close to three in four drivers (74 percent) would be likely to use the lanes if given the opportunity."

Thursday, August 22, 2013 in Michigan Land Use Institute

Rendering of electric scooters, electric cars, light rail train, and apartments in background.

Arizona’s ‘Car-Free’ Community Takes Shape

Culdesac Tempe has been welcoming residents since last year.

February 14, 2024 - The Cool Down

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

"It's The Climate" sign over street in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Oregon Town Seeks Funding for Ambitious Resilience Plan

Like other rural communities, Grants Pass is eager to access federal funding aimed at sustainability initiatives, but faces challenges when it comes to meeting grant requirements.

February 18, 2024 - The Daily Yonder

Close-up of bottom half of stroller being pushed onto sidewalk with no curb cut by person in jeans and brown shoes.

How Infrastructure Communicates Values

The presence and quality of sidewalks, curb cuts, and other basic elements of infrastructure can speak to much more than just economic decisions.

February 23 - Strong Towns

Greyhound and Amtrak buses at a temporary bus terminal in San Francisco, California.

Despite High Ridership, Intercity Bus Lines Are Eliminating Stations

Riders on the ‘forgotten stepchild’ of the U.S. transportation system find themselves waiting for buses curbside as Greyhound sells off its real estate in many U.S. cities.

February 23 - Governing

Buffalo, New York

Buffalo Residents Push Back on Proposed Cap Park

State and local officials say the $1 billion project will heal neighborhoods divided by the Kensington Expressway, but community members say the proposed plan will exacerbate already poor air quality in the area.

February 23 - Bloomberg CityLab

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.