Integrating Autonomous Vehicles and Managed Lanes

When managed lanes first emerged on American highways, the primary form of congestion management was vehicle restriction, like high occupancy vehicles (HOV) or no-truck Lanes. Over time, however, the effectiveness of these vehicle restrictions in managing congestion has diminished. In many cases, HOV lanes have gone through a period in which lane degradation has exceeded federal limitations, highlighting the need for new congestion management options.

One additional option gaining favor is lane pricing, which involves tolls for usage of the lanes by vehicles that don’t meet vehicle restriction requirements. Priced managed lanes have provided agencies with flexibility in maintaining operational reliability on some of the most congested roadways in the country. The lanes have coalesced into managed lanes networks and are becoming the new norm for transportation solutions.

New Frontiers

As these developments occurred, autonomous vehicles have gained traction as a viable transportation solution. The federal government, the automobile industry, and state agencies are beginning to accept this innovative advancement in safety and reliability. Testing in live environments is allowed by legislation in several states, such as Michigan, Florida, and Nevada. Other states are crafting similar legislation to allow testing and use of these vehicles, and to develop policies.

Autonomous vehicles provide numerous benefits, including safety, reliability, and convenience. They also potentially reduce congestion by allowing multiple autonomous vehicles to platoon along corridors in close proximity. The more vehicles in a fleet, the more congestion is reduced. This benefit dovetails nicely with those of managed lanes, because they are based on providing those same reliable trips. On the other hand, managed lanes could be seen as redundant based on the benefits of this new technology.

Exciting Possibilities

The transportation industry will have to adjust to these new realities and possibilities. Many industry professionals applaud current managed lanes systems, because they incorporate some of the most advanced forms of communications and data transfer functions in the industry. One exciting possibility is to adapt this technology to work with autonomous vehicles and turn managed lanes corridors into “smart corridors.” This could be accomplished by integrating autonomous vehicles into the managed lanes and providing autonomous vehicles with their own corridor. In such a corridor, benefits beyond just transportation are possible. Autonomous vehicles in dedicated lanes would reduce congestion and allow passengers to safely text, work, or study while traveling. Ridesharing could be as seamless as accessing an elevator in a busy mall.

Managed lanes provide a uniquely controlled environment that could be used to serve autonomous vehicle passengers and provide a significant benefit to the public. The future transportation opportunities are endless and industry professionals need to adapt to these exciting changes with open minds.

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About the author

Michael Davis, PE, DBIA
Michael Davis, PE, DBIA
Mike serves as the Tolls Service Group Leader for RS&H and has more than 22 years of experience in the transportation industry, including 15 years dedicated to managed lanes and tolling. During his diverse career, he has helped manage the development of managed lanes systems throughout the United States, including Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and California.

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