Traffic Congestion On I-95

What is our current congestion problem in Connecticut?

Traffic congestion in southwestern Connecticut has increased by 19 percent over the 10 years between 2001 and 2011. Twenty-mile backups on I-95 occur frequently, causing delays 3-4 hours a day. Growing congestion leads to unreliable travel times which can frustrate motorists and burden businesses with uncontrollable and unanticipated costs.

For more information, read the Effects of Traffic Congestion I-95
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What is CTDOT doing to address these traffic problems in the state?

The CT Congestion Relief Study is the first important step in learning how to most effectively reduce and manage congestion on I-95. The study of the I-95 corridor will consist of a thorough examination of existing traffic problems in the corridor including Route 15, Route 1, and the transit systems associated with Metro-North Railroad (New Haven Line) and Amtrak. Ultimately, the study will identify a range of alternative improvements that could be implemented to help reduce congestion.
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Electronic Tolling/Congestion Pricing Basics

What is Electronic Tolling and how does it work?

The idea behind electronic tolling (or congestion pricing) is to balance travel demand with roadway supply (capacity) by using electronic tolls as a management tool. Higher prices are charged during the most congested periods to encourage drivers to travel at less congested times of day, to shift to less congested routes, or to shift to transit.
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Won’t electronic tolling slow travel on our highways?

Old methods of collecting tolls relied on cash collection at toll booths, which often caused traffic back-ups and accidents. New electronic methods of toll collection use special equipment mounted on overhead gantries to read an EZ Pass or a similar transponder. With this electronic technology, drivers do not need to slow down and traffic continues to flow at normal highway speeds. This eliminates safety and delay problems associated with older-style toll booths.

For more information, read about Tolling Technology Past and Present
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Aren’t the highways already paid for? Why do we need to raise more money by charging people for driving on them?

Experience here in Connecticut shows that continuing maintenance and improvements of existing highways represents a substantial ongoing cost to states. The Connecticut Turnpike serves as an example. The total cost to build the road was $465 million. In 1983 the Mianus River Bridge collapsed, when the Turnpike was 25 years old. This led to the need for 13 miles of improvements including road widening, major bridge replacement, and interchange reconstruction, with a total cost of $2.2 billion. The reconstruction of 10% of the Turnpike cost almost five times the original cost of the entire Turnpike. This local example shows that roads and bridges don't last forever and rebuilding them will cost 10-20 times more than it did to construct them in the first place.

In addition to this reality of the need for continued and costly maintenance, it is important to recognize that gasoline taxes, a primary source of transportation funding, have not kept pace with inflation to cover the maintenance and improvement of our roadways. More efficient fuel mileage and alternative vehicle fuels, have resulted in decreased revenues from gas taxes. Also, federal gas tax rates have not increased since the early 1990s.
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What are the benefits of implementing tolling and pricing strategies?

States where these strategies are used have experienced:

  • Increased travel choices through addition of carpool lanes as well as improved transit and other travel modes.
    (See Congestion Pricing A Primer – Overview FHWA report)
  • More efficient use of new or existing highway systems, by spreading out demand and reducing congestion at peak hours. (See http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/tolling_pricing/faq/index.htm)
  • Reduced driver frustration and delay caused by heavy traffic conditions.
  • Increased revenue to build additional capacity and/or maintain existing transportation systems including transit.
  • More efficient travel choices as a result of less time wasted in traffic congestion and better-operated transit.
  • Increased economic and worker productivity as a result of traffic reductions and easier/faster commutes to work.
  • Improved air quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

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How could electronic tolling be used on CT roads?

There are four main types of pricing strategies that will be studied:

    • Express toll lanes: These consist of new lanes added to existing highways. For drivers willing to pay the toll, express lanes offer the opportunity to bypass congested sections of highway. They also benefit drivers in the existing free lanes by adding capacity to the highway and reducing travel times.
    • High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes: The conversion of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes can help reduce congestion and give drivers more travel choices. HOT lanes typically occur where existing HOV lanes are underutilized in a congested highway corridor. Single occupant vehicles (SOVs) are allowed access to the lanes by paying a toll which typically varies by time of day.
    • Spot Pricing: All-electronic tolls can be added to a specific location, such as a bridge, tunnel, or major interchange facility, to generate funds to offset the significant cost of building or expanding the project.
    • Whole Facility Pricing: Electronic tolling can be applied to all lanes along a heavily used length of corridor to manage congestion during peak travel times.

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Public Response to Congestion Pricing

Has congestion pricing been accepted by the public?

Electronic tolling has been implemented in many U.S. cities and several states. Public opinion surveys have found that prior to implementation of electronic tolling about 70 percent of the public and stakeholders are opposed to electronic tolling but, after implementation and operation, public opposition slips to about 30 percent.Back to top

How has the public responded to changing HOV lanes to HOT lanes?

Following implementation of electronic tolling in other states, outcomes show that utilization of HOT lanes is greater than pre-implementation use of HOV lanes.  For example, before conversion to HOT lanes, the I-15 HOV lanes in San Diego were underutilized with 600 vehicles per hour per lane (less than half available capacity at high speeds). By 2004, 8 years after implementation, total daily traffic on the HOT lanes has increased to more than 21,000. HOT lane users have reported savings up to 20 minutes compared to main lane travel.

Another example can be seen in Minnesota with the I-394 HOT lanes in Minnesota, peak hour volumes on the HOT lanes increased from 9 to 33 percent while travel speeds have not decreased. At the same time, peak-hour speeds in adjacent general purpose (free) lanes increased by up to 15 percent.
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Congestion Pricing in Action

How can electronic tolling change rush hour traffic problems? Everyone still needs to commute to and from work; congestion pricing can’t change this.

On average, over half of peak-period drivers in metropolitan areas are not commuting. In other words, there is far more schedule flexibility than commonly thought. Moreover, the rise of the internet and telecommuting are providing employees with unprecedented flexibility to work outside of their offices. It is expected that some employers would respond to congestion pricing by offering employees more work-schedule options.
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How much would the charge be?

The price structure that makes the most sense for Connecticut is one of the many outcomes that will result from the congestion pricing studies.
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Would electronic tolling on some roads cause traffic to shift onto free roads, causing those roads to become congested?

It is true that when electronic tolls are implemented, some drivers divert to alternative toll-free routes. However, congestion pricing in Connecticut is just one potential solution to the congestion problem. The whole idea behind the study CT Congestion Relief study is to determine what combination of electronic tolling options and road and/or transit improvements would lead to the most efficient transportation system.

In addition, one option for implementing pricing is to provide both tolled and non-tolled lanes. Under this implementation option, drivers have a choice on the highway, thereby reducing their inclination to divert to other routes.
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What will the revenue generated from electronic tolling be used for?

A small portion of the revenues will be used to operate the toll-collection and traffic-management systems. Net revenues after payment of operating costs would be used to finance highway and possible transit improvements in the travel corridor that further reduce congestion. Revenues could also be used to help finance major road or bridge reconstruction or replacement projects.
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If the Federal government is relaxing its restrictions on tolling at the state level, what guarantee do we have that the revenue raised from congestion pricing will be used only for transportation improvements?

The Federal Highway Administration sets limits on for what the revenue can be used. Approved uses include debt service for the road where the congestion pricing is implemented as well as funding of maintenance and operations in the corridor where the congestion pricing is implemented. Additionally, if the public authority annually certifies to the FHWA that the tolled roadway is being adequately maintained, revenue can be invested in transit improvements such as park and ride facilities, and any purpose for which Federal funds may be obligated by a State under title 23, United State Code. (Section 1512 of MAP-21; 23 U.S.C. 129(a)(3)(A)(iv)).
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Where has electronic tolling already been implemented?

Many examples of different approaches to electronic tolling have been implemented throughout the United States. Examples are listed below and explained in further detail in short case studies accessed by clicking on the links:

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Does electronic tolling invade a driver’s privacy?

Tolling agencies have devised a method to protect the public’s privacy by linking the transponder and the driver’s personal information with a generic, internal account number that does not reveal the driver’s identity and that is not disclosed to other organizations. In addition, a motorist can open an anonymous pre-paid account if he or she so chooses.
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Don’t only high-income drivers support congestion pricing?

Studies completed in cities that have implemented congestion pricing show that, while there are some equity concerns in certain cases, the implementation and continued use of congestion pricing is supported across all income levels. Examples include:

  • San Diego, CA: In a public survey, it was found that there were very few differences in attitudes about the fairness of the lanes based on ethnicity or income. It was found that low income users were more likely to support HOT lanes than were the highest income users.
  • Orange County, CA: A study conducted by FHWA found that, at any given time, about one-quarter of the vehicles in toll lanes are driven by high-income individuals, whereas the remaining cars are driven by low- and middle-income individuals.

Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN: In a survey conducted a year after initial implementation, support for the lanes was found to be high across income levels, including by 71 per­cent of high-income respondents, 61 percent of middle-income respondents, and 64 percent of low-income respondents.

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Are there other sources of information?

Where can I learn more about congestion pricing?

The Federal Highway Administration has published many documents on congestion pricing. Please visit the Reports page for links to those documents.
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