Tolls, Congestion Pricing Face Drivers in Five U.S. Cities

WASHINGTON, DC, August 15, 2007 (ENS) - Getting around in New York City is about to become easier for pedestrians and transit passengers, but more expensive for drivers who want to enter Manhattan's downtown business district. On Monday, New York was awarded $354 million in federal funds to implement a congestion pricing program that aims to keep more cars and trucks out of the core downtown area.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters selected five metropolitan areas as the first communities to participate in a new $848.1 million federal initiative to fight traffic gridlock. As the nation's largest city, New York is receiving the lion's share of the funds.

Miami, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle also were chosen to receive smaller amounts for their traffic programs after a nationwide competition to select winners from among the 26 cities that applied to join the Department of Transportation's Urban Partnership program. The program aims to cut traffic congestion using approaches like congestion pricing, transit, tolling, and teleworking.

New York: 354.5 Million

"We've worked very hard to secure these funds, and this is a major victory for the people of New York City," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Gridlock in New York's Times Square (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy
"By fulfilling the terms of the agreement, we will be able to create new and better mass transit options for commuters all across the city before congestion pricing takes effect.

"Now we'll work with the State Legislature and City Council to seize this golden opportunity to use Federal funds to reduce congestion, improve air quality, and keep traffic tie-ups from choking our economy."

On Earth Day, Mayor Bloomberg introduced his pilot congestion pricing program as part of a larger plan for greening New York City called PlaNYC.

The pilot would establish congestion pricing to manage traffic in the Central Business District. On weekdays from 6 am to 6 pm, trucks would be charged $21 a day and cars would be charged $8 to enter this area, in addition to premium parking fees charged by city and private lots.

The federal funding announced Monday can cover either the Mayor's pilot congestion pricing program or an alternative plan that achieves the same reductions in traffic congestion, within the same time frame, and also uses a pricing system.

All parts of the federal funding agreement are contingent on the New York State Legislature approving the pilot congestion pricing plan, or an alternative pricing mechanism, within 90 days of the opening of the next legislative session, and making it effective no later than March 31, 2009.

If the State Legislature approves a pilot congestion pricing plan or an alternative pricing mechanism, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority will receive $184 million for new bus facilities and the city will receive $112.7 million to establish Bus Rapid Transit in all five boroughs.

The city will also receive $29.3 million for pedestrian and traffic signal improvements, $10.4 million in grant money to implement congestion pricing, $15.8 to improve ferry service, and $2 million to conduct research.

Governor Eliot Spitzer said, "Congestion pricing holds immense promise for the future of New York City. It has the potential to mitigate the City's severe congestion and its associated economic costs while also improving public health by reducing harmful pollutants."

Minneapolis: $133.3 Million

The $133.3 million transportation award to Minneapolis is especially timely after the collapse of the I-35W Bridge on August 1 that killed nine people, with four others still missing and presumed dead.

Collapse of the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River (Photo credit unknown)
"Minneapolis needs solutions that work now, not years and years from now," Secretary Peters said. "We are committed to working with leaders in the Twin Cities to make sure that traffic snarls don't bring this region to a standstill."

As part of Minnesota's plan, High Occupancy Toll lanes will replace High Occupancy Vehicle lanes along I-35W from 66th Street to Burnsville Parkway, speeding commutes into the Twin Cities while giving drivers new options for getting home faster.

Shoulder lanes will operate as toll lanes during congested periods and will charge tolls based on the levels of traffic.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will use $13.2 million of the funding to purchase new buses and equipment, Secretary Peters said.

The Minnesota plan includes upgraded technology throughout the area to improve mobility for motorists and transit operators and give drivers real-time traffic and transit information. In addition, leaders plan to shift an additional 500 workers to either a flexible work schedule or to telecommutes.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said, "Our state is especially grateful to our federal partners for their continued assistance as we continue the recovery process and begin rebuilding the I-35W bridge."

"I'm very grateful to the broad-based, bi-partisan coalition of mayors and legislators from throughout the I-35W corridor who helped us make this happen," said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. "It also brings us a giant step closer to our vision of dedicated bus-rapid-transit on I-35W south of downtown."

Seattle: $138.7 Million

A different bridge figures prominently in the federal grant to Washington state.

Seattle's floating bridge will soon be a toll bridge. (Photo by Rob Huffman)
The federal government will provide $138.7 million if Washington will impose a toll on the old Highway 520 floating bridge, Secretary Peters said. Spanning Seattle's Lake Washington, it is the longest floating bridge in the world.

Tolls would be part of a comprehensive effort to reduce congestion and to raise money toward a replacement bridge, she said.

The grant includes $86 million for toll equipment, enforcement cameras, message signs and telecommute programs.

There would be $41 million for new King County Metro Transit buses, plus two park-and-ride lots at south Kirkland and Redmond. An additional $12 million is included to add passenger-ferry service from Vashon Island to Seattle.

The Lake Washington Urban Partnership application was jointly submitted by King County, the Puget Sound Regional Council and the Washington State Department of Transportation.

"Our success securing this grant illustrates the truly regional effort needed to replace the Highway 520 Bridge," said King County Executive Ron Sims.

Bob Drewel, executive director of the Puget Sound Regional Council, said the work is just beginning. "This announcement is a great start, but it is not a finish. We are now first in line for this federal funding but to secure it we'll need to work through the complexities of the project to secure these funds."

San Francisco: $158 million

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents the district that includes San Francisco in the House of Representatives, applauded the Metropolitan Transportation Commissionís success in securing $158 million to reduce traffic congestion in the city and throughout the Bay Area.

Doyle Drive approaches the Golden Gate Bridge. (Photo courtesy San Francisco County Transportation Authority)
"This is a great victory for the Bay Area," Pelosi said. "The nine-county Bay Area is the second most congested metropolitan area in the country, affecting more than seven million residents. In order for the area to remain a vital engine for economic growth, we must address this growing problem."

This grant centers on the San Francisco Doyle Drive congestion pricing program. It will use tolling to manage congestion on Doyle Drive, the elevated access road connecting the Golden Gate Bridge to downtown San Francisco.

Drivers on Doyle Drive will be charged a fee according to the level of congestion on the road. The fee would be collected electronically through overhead sensors, not at a separate toll plaza, says the San Francisco Transportation Authority.

The revenues will be used to rebuild the roadway to earthquake safety standards, improve parking access to Golden Gate Transit ferry services, and provide better transit service.

"Smart" parking management and payment systems will be installed in the Civic Center and downtown areas, including new parking meters that accept credit cards.

The grant will also support SFgo, the cityís real-time traffic information and management system to smooth traffic flow, provide transit priority at signals, and manage traffic incidents; and will fund development of a telecommuting/ride-sharing program for municipal workers.

Miami: $62.9 Million

With its award of $62.9 million, the state of Florida intends to begin converting the underused and unpopular High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on Interstate 95 into an electronic High Occupancy Toll highway.

The Florida Department of Transportation will reconstruct and restripe the 21 mile stretch of I-95 between Interstate 395 in downtown Miami and Interstate 595 near Fort Lauderdale to allow 12 total lanes of traffic.

Two lanes in each direction will have tolls, while four lanes in each direction will still be free of charge. Toll prices will vary depending on the volume of traffic in the express lanes.

All five federal grant agreements require approval of the respective state legislatures.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.