UDOT considers doubling or tripling Express Lanes toll rates

Friday , September 29, 2017 - 5:15 AM6 comments

MITCH SHAW, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — As the name suggests, the state’s Interstate 15 Express Lanes system is designed to keep vehicles moving — even when other freeway lanes are packed.

But the Utah Department of Transportation says at certain locations, during peak commute times the objective of the system is quickly becoming compromised.

So the department has proposed to double the toll rate for single-occupant users of the lanes.

Instituted in 2010, the Express Lanes system allows carpoolers, buses, motorcycles, emergency vehicles and clean-fuel vehicles in a dedicated lane on the far left side of I-15. The system is made of seven segments stretching from Spanish Fork to Layton.

RELATED: One in 10 Utah motorists illegally use Express Lanes

When space is open, solo drivers can drive in the lane for a fee. An electronic payment system charges solo drivers by using an algorithm that adjusts the price based on current traffic conditions. Costs are higher when I-15 is more congested.

Earlier this month Rob Clayton, UDOT director of Traffic Management, told state transportation commissioners traffic flow in the lanes is deteriorating in the busiest parts of the system during the evening commute, with speeds regularly falling below UDOT’s target of 55 mph.

“We want to maintain a high quality of traffic flow in that lane to encourage people to make the choice to carpool,” Clayton told the commission. 

In order to reduce volume in the lanes, UDOT wants to raise the maximum toll rate from $1 per segment to $2 per segment, or from about 10 cents to 20 cents per mile.

Clayton said changing toll rates is the best way to manage volume in the system — in theory, higher rates will discourage single-occupancy users of the system, freeing up space. 

RELATED: $158 million I-15 project in Northern Utah moved up, thanks to $1B bonding bill

Commissioners said a bigger increase than UDOT is proposing might be necessary to make a real dent in the growing congestion problem. 

“I’m not sure $2 is enough,” said Commissioner Meg Holbrook. “I’d like to build in a little bit of cushion, to maybe recommend $2.50 or $3. I’d like not to cut us off because we did that before and we have this problem (with congestion).”

Commissioner J. Kent Millington said he’d even be willing to consider a number higher than Holbrook’s $3 suggestion. 

“Going from 10 cents a mile to 20 cents a mile will help, (but) I don’t think it’s going to deter a lot,” he said.

UDOT spokesman John Gleason said the commission will discuss the proposal again and could possibly vote on an increase at their next regular meeting, scheduled for Oct. 13 in Ogden. If commissioners approve the increase, the proposal would then go before the Utah State Legislature during the 2018 general session.

In 2018, the state will begin a project to add Express Lanes to both north- and southbound I-15 between Hill Field Road in Layton and Interstate 84 in Riverdale. the project will cost $158 million. The project could take up to two years to complete.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer/.

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