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Congestion Pricing

Nov 29, 2017

Congestion Pricing

Express toll lanes give travelers choices. Congestion in the Chicago region costs drivers time, money, and patience. Building expressway capacity is critical to handle our traffic, but construction cannot relieve congestion completely, especially with growth in traffic over time. A new strategy is needed, one that gives drivers the option to avoid congestion.

Congestion in the Chicago region costs drivers time, money, and patience. Building expressway capacity is critical to handle our traffic, but construction cannot relieve congestion completely, especially with growth in traffic over time. A new strategy is needed, one that gives drivers the option to avoid congestion.

As recommended by GO TO 2040, it is time for our region to implement congestion pricing, with priced lanes that will help manage traffic and give drivers better choices for getting around. Now the region is moving toward its first potential use of congestion pricing: a new managed lane on the I-55 Stevenson Expressway, which IDOT is studying and hopes to build by 2019. 

About

With congestion pricing, toll rates in express lanes rise at times when more drivers want to use the highway, then tolls fall when demand is low. The simple logic of supply and demand can help to manage highway resources more effectively: Drivers will choose to enter or leave the express toll lanes based on the variable cost.

The toll rate can be finely calibrated to manage demand at a level that leads to faster, more-reliable travel times. Higher prices during peak periods may also reduce congestion by encouraging travelers to carpool, take transit, or consider alternative routes and times for their trips. 

In this illustration: 1) Signs indicate upcoming points of access to the express toll lanes.  2) At the access points, signs indicate the toll charged to travel certain distances. Prices are set to ensure smooth traffic flow and reliable speeds in the express lanes. Transit vehicles and registered carpools typically ride free or at a discount. And 3) After a driver enters the express toll lanes, an overhead device reads the vehicle's electronic transponder and automatically charges the toll — similar to the Illinois Tollway's open road tolling system.

Express toll lanes improve traffic flow

Potential Locations

GO TO 2040 strongly advocates the implementation of congestion pricing.  To help understand how it could work here in metropolitan Chicago, let's look at the new expressway construction projects recommended by the comprehensive regional plan.  These include two new facilities -- the Illinois Route 53 north extension and Illinois Route 120 bypass and the Elgin O'Hare Western Access -- plus new lanes on the I-90 Addams Tollway, the I-290 Eisenhower Expressway, and the I-55 Stevenson Expressway. 

The map below briefly describes each project's congestion pricing factors.  It also includes projected results for morning peak travel periods, based on CMAP computer models.

Congestion pricing for new expressways or lanes tends to pose fewer challenges because it doesn't require conversion of existing lanes. Implementing it for existing roads would be more challenging, but it also might bring greater benefits –- more congestion relief and bigger savings in travel time. In the future, our region should also consider congestion pricing for existing roads.

This map shows a number of GO TO 2040 capital projects where congestion pricing should be implemented.

Map of potential congestion pricing projects in Chicago region

Other Instances

Congestion pricing has existed in the U.S. since 1995, when the SR-91 Express Lanes opened in Orange County, California. Particularly since the mid-2000s, several other new facilities have opened in cities across the country. Note that this map shows only express toll lanes or high occupancy toll facilities. Several metropolitan areas have more than one expressway with congestion pricing, have expanded an existing facility, or are constructing additional facilities. A region's willingness to expand existing facilities or to implement multiple projects is perhaps the best evidence that the public recognizes congestion pricing's effectiveness.

Map of US congestion pricing projects

Resources

CMAP has collected a variety of materials and links supporting the effort to implement congestion pricing, including Congestion Pricing: An Analysis of the GO TO 2040 Major Capital Projects, a report featuring detailed technical analysis based on CMAP computer modeling of congestion pricing for major expressway construction projects recommended by the GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan.