Managed Lanes - What They Are and Why We Need Them


What are managed lanes?

According to the Federal Highway Administration, managed lanes are highway lanes where operational strategies are proactively implemented and managed in response to changing conditions.

The diagram below (click to enlarge) captures the potential lane management applications that fall under the broad definition of “managed lanes.” On the left of the diagram are the applications of a single operational strategy. As you move to the right on the diagram, you get into more complex managed lane facilities that blend more than one of the strategies.

Managed lane strategies fall into three main categories:

  • Access control
    Express lanes, reversible lanes
  • Vehicle eligibility
    High-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, truck lane restrictions, off-peak use of HOV lanes by non-HOV vehicles
  • Pricing
    Value-priced lanes, toll lanes

There is a growing assumption that any form of a managed lane is synonymous with a tolling operation. While this is sometimes true, it is not a given. Lane management encompasses a wide variety of strategies, including but not limited to:

  • High-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes
  • Express lanes (through-traffic lanes with fewer exits)
  • Restricted lanes (e.g., trucks or buses only)
  • Reversible lanes

Alone or combined, all of these lane types are under the umbrella of a comprehensive managed lane strategy.  

Definitions

  • Dynamic pricing – fee adjusts in real-time to mitigate congestion in the lane
  • Exclusive truck lanes – lanes that declare whether no trucks or only trucks are allowed
  • Express lane – lane for through traffic, with fewer exits
  • High-occupancy tolled lane (HOT) – high-occupancy vehicles travel free or at discounted rates depending on demand; other vehicles pay a fee
  • High-occupancy vehicle lane (HOV) – access restricted to high-occupancy vehicles
  • Lane or time-of-day restrictions – allow access to managed lanes only at certain times of day or to certain vehicle types (e.g., trucks)
  • Multifaceted managed lane facilities – incorporate multiple lane management strategies
  • Reversible lane – lane where traffic direction can be altered in response to conditions
  • Time-of-day pricing – fees increase or decrease at certain times of day
  • Transit lanes – dedicated lanes and rights of way for public transit vehicles such as trains or buses
  • Variable pricing – fee-based congestion management solution; can be dynamic or based on time of day

Why do we use managed lanes?

Managed lanes are vital for reducing congestion and offering drivers more reliable timeframes for getting to their destinations. By actively managing the flow of traffic in a lane, transportation agencies are able to adjust lane strategies as needed to maximize roadway efficiency, improving traffic flow on both the managed and general-purpose lanes.

Rush hour traffic on Loop 1/Mopac Expressway in Austin, TX — managed lane on left, general purpose lanes on right

Loop 1/Mopac Expressway in Austin, TX — managed lane on left, general purpose lanes on right. Select the photo to view a larger image.

How do they benefit drivers?

  • Travel options and choices
  • Greater travel time reliability
  • Safer roadways
  • More efficient use of system capacity
  • Flexible use in emergency situations
  • Improved traffic flow on both managed and general-purpose lanes

Why not just add more general-purpose lanes?

Unfortunately, we cannot build our way out of our congestion problems. Studies show that, even where space is not limited, adding capacity very quickly leads to increased volume. In other words, if you increase capacity on a roadway by 10 percent, the number of cars on that roadway will increase by the same 10 percent. Strategic management of lanes on existing and proposed roadways is critical to achieving improved travel times for everyone.

How are managed lane strategies deployed in Texas?

In Texas, the majority of managed lanes contain no fee component. Where fee-based managed lanes exist, they offer drivers the option and convenience of bypassing congestion on adjacent general-purpose lanes.

Texas’ Managed Lanes

TxDOT, or in some cases project developers, manage the lanes and entities such as a toll road authority may provide billing, either by mail or electronically, with reduced rates for vehicles equipped with any Texas transponder (such as TxTag, TollTag or EZ Tag). 

Currently, managed lane systems exist or are being built around the state. View statewide inventory.

Austin

Dallas-Fort Worth and North Texas

El Paso
Fort Worth

Houston

San Antonio

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