Will Toor and Mike Salisbury at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project have put together a good paper called Managed Lanes in Colorado (it’s a PDF) that looks at the policy rationale behind (and a few issues with) creating additional highway capacity in the form of managed lanes with tolling, that also allow high occupancy vehicles and transit to take advantage of the investment, addressing some of the “Lexus Lane” criticism of using tolls in the public right of way (on projects that are still mostly publicly funded). It’s not quite as fun to read as my magnum opus from this winter on the same topic (US 36: For Whom the Road Tolls) but might be more appropriate for forwarding to policymakers.
US-36: For Whom the Road Tolls
If you live in Boulder, you’ve almost certainly noticed the construction along US-36 — aka the Boulder-Denver Turnpike. The main thing that’s being built here is one new lane in each direction. However, it’s not your average road-widening project. Usually when additional capacity is added, it’s rapidly consumed by induced demand. Instead, the two new lanes are going to be special managed lanes. What does that mean?
These new lanes are going to be optimized for mass transit, in this case buses. It won’t quite be Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), in which the lanes are used exclusively by buses, passengers pay on the platform, and board like you would on a subway or light-rail line. The US 36 system will be somewhere between that and the express service that we’ve got now. Even at peak hours, when buses are departing every 3-5 minutes, there will still be a significant amount of spare capacity in the managed lanes. This capacity will be made available to high occupancy vehicles, and those that are willing to pay a toll. There may also be a number of permits issued for electric vehicles, though how that would work remains to be determined. The toll value, the number of passengers required to be considered “high occupancy” and the number of EV permits that might be issued will all be managed to ensure that the buses go at least 50 miles per hour. The two general purpose travel lanes in each direction will remain free to everyone.