At the end of the day, what is most valuable to travelers? Time, of course! We are all given 24 hours in each day to eat, sleep, work, play, and enjoy life to its fullest.

But, when part of that day is spent in heavy urban congestion getting to and from our destinations, we tend to get frustrated and upset. Based upon the recent 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard developed by Texas A&M Transportation Institute, commuters are spending anywhere from 2 to 3.5 days a year in delay on our congested highways.

But what if I told you there is a way to provide an alternative solution to compensate for some of this “wasted” time? Interested?

The Option

We have a current option to work with to address this congestion: priced managed lanes. This operations-centric alternative allows a transportation agency to utilize proven methods to manage traffic throughput via a controlled access corridor, thus providing a higher level of trip reliability to those using this corridor.

While the industry sees priced managed lanes as a viable option to combat congestion, we sometimes have a hard time conveying this to the public. The message is simple – trip reliability. Trip reliability provides a driver comfort in knowing that when they need it, they can use the priced managed lanes to avoid congestion and save time.

In Theory: In the mid-2000s, Paul Haase of Sammamish WA demonstrated this reliability factor through his “rice experiment”, where he showed the effects of controlling the rice particles (vehicles) being poured through a funnel, versus letting unorganized particles jam themselves up because of oversaturation into the funnel.

In Practice: While a simplified approach, the principles work in the “highway world.” We’ve seen improvement on facilities that have controlled their input into priced managed lanes, like the recently opened I-580 Express Lanes in Northern California, where average speeds in the corridor have gone up by 20 to 30 mph in the peak periods.

Technology & the Future

The transportation industry has witnessed many new technology innovations to enhance overall corridor operations, such as smart phone applications, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) integration, vehicle occupancy detection systems, video traffic monitoring, and more.

In the future, additional technological advancements are expected to greatly impact the design, operation, and implementation of projects, and thus improve our traveling experience. Connected vehicles, autonomous vehicles, quantum computing and machine learning, on-demand transit and ridesharing, and vehicle telematics will all create a vastly more intelligent vehicle and transportation network. This will lead to the potential to improve mobility, reliability, and safety.

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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.