Congestion plan proposes variable tolling

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said his new national plan to alleviate congestion would include implementing broad “congestion pricing” and encouraging more private transportation investing.

America loses an annual $200 billion to freight bottlenecks and delayed deliveries, while consumers lose 3.7 billion hours and 2.3 billion gallons of fuel sitting in traffic jams, Mineta said. Congestion pricing, or variable tolling, is the first strategy Mineta listed in his blueprint to tackle highway, freight and aviation clogs. This plan charges higher tolls during peak times of the day and lower tolls during off-peak times.

He presented his National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America’s Transportation Network at the National Retail Federation conference in Washington, D.C., May 16. “Some of what we are about to do will be labeled controversial by those who are wedded to the status quo,” Mineta said. “But we must embrace new solutions if we are going to make any meaningful progress in reducing congestion.”

Department officials will seek Urban Partnership Agreements from large metropolitan areas that will require variable pricing programs to spread traffic throughout the day. Congestion pricing has been successful in mitigating congestion in major international cities, he said. At the state level, the private sector has shown growing interest in transportation through such projects as the lease of the Chicago Skyway and the pending lease of the Indiana Toll Road. Mineta said states would be encouraged to open their transportation infrastructure funding to private investment.

The plan also calls for:

  • Creating or expanding express bus services;
  • Securing agreements from major area employers to establish or expand telecommuting and flex scheduling;
  • Expediting completion of the most significant highway capacity projects currently under way that will reduce bottlenecks the most; and
  • Widespread deployment of new technologies and practices that end traffic jams and target port and border congestion.

    The Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission will have its first meeting Wednesday, May 24. Its task is to find solutions to raising highway and transit revenue funding and cut congestion costs by focusing on system performance.