Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reducing congestion in Atlanta

Voluntary express toll lanes provide real relief
Originally published: December 2006, Page 5, Highway 78 CID Update

Metro Atlanta suffers today with serious traffic congestion, whose direct cost is estimated at $1.75 billion per year. The Governor’s Congestion Mitigation Task Force, on which I served, recommended a dramatic change in the focus of transportation planning by weighting a projects congestion mitigation benefit at 70 percent with a goal of substantially reducing Atlanta’s average travel time by 2030.

Recently the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF) released a study prepared by the Reason Foundation titled “Reducing Congestion in Atlanta: A Bold New Approach to Increasing Mobility”. Much of the reporting on the studies release focused on one of the proposed mega-projects – a double-decked, six lane tunnel parallel to the downtown connector through Atlanta.

Too much focus is being placed on this single project, I believe: The really BIG idea is the proposal for variable priced express toll lanes (ETL).

Why ETLs? Virtually everyone involved in transportation planning agrees additional and new revenue sources are desperately needed, and ETLs provide new revenues without new taxation. Most agree that a cost-effective, flexible public transportation system is a key component to reducing congestion and providing a competitive economic environment. ETLs provide a virtual equivalent of a region-wide express bus network without a major investment of limited transit dollars. ETLs also preserve consumer choice, improve response times for emergency vehicles, and greatly reduce compliance costs.

The Reason Foundation study recommends deploying the previously allocated $4.5 billion for expansion of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) network as a network of ETLs instead. A complete network of variable priced express toll lanes on the existing freeway system would provide reliable, uncongested travel for buses, vanpools, and voluntary paying vehicles. Adding separate, voluntary truck only toll (TOT) lanes, as recently suggested by the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) study, would allow trucks the option of bypassing Atlanta’s congestion in exchange for paying a toll.

Voluntary ETLs, priced to offer significant timesavings by allowing those who are willing to pay for a faster and more reliable trip, also greatly increase throughput. Variable priced ETLs operating during rush hour produce about 50 percent more functional capacity than the highly congested general-purpose lanes alongside. During the height of rush hour congestion, the study says, ETLs would operate at 1,800 vehicles per lane per hour as compared to 1,200 or less vehicles per lane per hour on the adjacent general-purpose lanes.

Metro Atlanta will continue to face considerable congestion after 2030, but implementation of ETLs, much of which could be accomplished as early as 2009, would be an immediate improvement that will pay benefits for many years to come. ETLs are not the sole solution; we must continue to advance all reasonable transportation improvements including existing system enhancements such as freeway ramp metering, improved incident response, signal timing, and intelligent transportation systems (technology). Further, public transportation, transit, pedestrian facilities, and land use decisions will continue to play an important role in improving our future transportation system.

Referenced agencies:
Georgia Public Policy Foundation
Reason Foundation

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