WASHINGTON – The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB), in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia Departments of Transportation, today held the region’s first major public conference on providing more transportation options through innovative pricing strategies. The one-day conference, “Value Pricing for Transportation in the Washington Region” brought together local elected officials, business and community leaders, and transportation officials to examine pricing strategies being implemented in some U.S. and international locations and under consideration in others, including the Washington region.
The FHWA defines value pricing as a way of harnessing the power of the marketplace to reduce traffic congestion and improve the environment. These pricing strategies are also an innovative way to finance improvements to highway facilities or add transportation options like bus rapid transit. Value pricing entails charging fees or tolls that vary by time of day for certain roadway facilities in order to ensure that a high level of service is available to travelers on these facilities throughout the day. Fees are typically assessed electronically to eliminate delays associated with collecting tolls manually. Successful applications in California and Texas allow single occupant vehicles to pay a toll to use HOV lanes and obtain a congestion-free trip. In New York, higher peak bridge tolls help to reduce peak back-ups by encouraging some traffic to shift into off-peak hours.
“What we are talking about is options,” said Peter Shapiro, chair of the TPB and the Prince George’s County Council. “Pricing means more options in a region with notorious congestion and shrinking budgets.”
"Pricing solutions are essential to moving the region forward in reducing SOV use, expanding transit choices, and mitigating the human health effects from air pollution,” added Phil Mendelson, second vice chair of the TPB and a member of the Council of the District of Columbia. “The costs of driving extend way beyond the costs of roads and gas, and we need to work on making sure the public is aware of this."
The FHWA reports that a number of value pricing projects are underway in the United States and internationally: Orange County and San Diego, CA; Houston, TX; Lee County, FL; and New York, NY, as well as Canada, Norway, France, Singapore, United Kingdom, Sweden, Greece, and Hong Kong. The projects involve a variety of innovative strategies, including cordon charges (London), parking cash-out programs, mileage-based user fees, and high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes.
Locally, the Virginia Department of Transportation has submitted a proposal to the FHWA to study allowing drivers to buy into HOV lanes in Northern Virginia in such locations as the Dulles Toll Road and the Capital Beltway. The study is designed to produce a list of facilities that could accommodate implementing a value pricing project successfully.
“Today the region is having an overdue conversation about transportation pricing – pricing along with smart development and improved transit can go a long way towards getting the region moving in the right direction,” said Chris Zimmerman, a member of the TPB and the Arlington County Board.