Managed lanes or Express Lanes are one of the hottest new innovations in highway management. They’re a practical response to a tough reality facing road operators around the world: traffic volumes have increased, highway capacity has failed to keep pace, and congestion has become more and more severe, particularly in developed urban areas.
Although volume has leveled off in recent years, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the United States grew more than 70% in the last two decades, while highway capacity only increased 0.3%. Priced Managed Lanes give highway operators a new tool to manage traffic flow more efficiently by:
- Regulating demand
- Separating traffic streams to reduce congestion.
- Making best use of all the available space on a road
Different toll agencies have come up with their own approaches to managed lanes, but every managed lane has three common features:
- It’s a "freeway within a freeway," where priced lanes are separated from general-purpose traffic.
- Traffic on a lane is managed to achieve a specific set of goals, like minimum speeds at different times of day.
- The highway operator uses one of three principal management strategies to meet its operating goals: time-of-day pricing, vehicle eligibility, and controlled access.
A managed lane might be set up as a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane, a high-occupancy toll (HOT) lane, a value-priced lane, or an exclusive or special use lane. Each of these approaches has its strengths, so highway operators have to plan carefully before picking the best option for their communities. The right answer will depend on whether their goal is to reduce congestion, offer more choices for commuters, generate revenue, or boost transit use.