Monday , October 16, 2017 - 5:15 AM1 comment
At their monthly meeting, held Friday at Weber State University, commissioners approved doubling and potentially quadrupling toll rates for single-occupant users of the lane.
First introduced in 2010, the system is made of seven segments from Spanish Fork to Layton. It allows carpoolers, buses, motorcycles, emergency vehicles and clean-fuel vehicles to use a dedicated lane on the left side of I-15.
If space is available, solo drivers can drive in the lane for a fee — collected through an electronic payment system that charges drivers using on an algorithm that adjusts prices based on current traffic conditions.
Fees go up when traffic is heavy.
The system is meant to keep traffic flowing smoothly in the dedicated lane, despite how bad congestion is outside of it. But the Utah Department of Transportation says flow is deteriorating at the busiest points in the system, mostly during evening commute times, and speeds are regularly falling below the minimum 55 mph target.
Last month, UDOT Director of Traffic Management Rob Clayton told commissioners raising the maximum toll rate from $1 per segment to $2 per segment, or from about 10 cents to 20 cents per mile, would help reduce volume in the lanes by discouraging single-occupancy users.
Several commissioners opined that the rate might not be high enough, so UDOT staff went back to the drawing board.
On Friday, the commission approved a UDOT proposal for two new rates. The first, which UDOT calls a “maximum toll rate” is set at $4. The second, called the “maximum operational rate” would be set at $2. Both rates will have to be approved by the legislature during the 2018 session.
If the rates are approved, single-occupant users of the system would pay the $2 rate. The $4 maximum toll rate is basically a contingency, allowing the commission to increase rates as needed without additional legislative approval.
“If there’s a need for it to go up, we could go ahead and do that,” UDOT Operation Director Jason Davis told the commission Friday.
Davis said the Express Lane is set up to reduce congestion on the freeway, not to make money. He said the $2 rate will allow UDOT to reduce congestion in the system at the lowest possible cost to users.
“We’re not trying to generate revenue, we’re looking at moving people,” Davis said. “The revenue we do generate is used to maintain and operate the Express Lane.”
Commissioner Dannie McConkie asked UDOT staff what could be done to curb violators, which Davis said make up about 28 percent of the vehicles that travel in the system.
Davis and UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras said using technology to enforce system rules could eventually come into play, but that option isn’t imminent. Some states have cameras that scan license plates of vehicles, ticketing those that aren’t registered to use the system.
“That’s a very sensitive topic — the idea of enforcement with technology,” Braceras said. “We’re always looking and exploring what’s out there, but that type of decision would need to be made by the legislature.”
Express Lane violators can be fined $337 with the infraction going on their driving record, if they’re caught by the Utah Highway Patrol.
You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer/.
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