• Would you pay extra to drive in an express lane if it meant avoiding traffic?

    By: Heather Hegedus , Bob Dumas

    Updated:

    BOSTON - Being constantly stuck in traffic is one of the biggest frustrations Bostonians have today. One of the solutions Governor Charlie Baker wants to explore more is something called “managed lanes”.

    Drivers can access an express lane by paying a fluctuating toll based on demand.  

    “They provide all drivers with an option to get around congested areas,” explained Mike McGurk, of Transurban, which runs managed lanes in Virginia near Washington, D.C.  “How we keep them free-flowing is we use dynamic tolling.  What that means for drivers practically is that the toll is going to change about every ten minutes based on real-time traffic.  Drivers are going to pay a more expensive toll when rush hour is in effect.”

    Baker recently said he wants to study if managed lanes could provide some relief. He said he only favors a system that would add additional lanes for express drivers and would keep the existing lanes available at no additional charge.  

    "I believe it’s the fairest and most doable option with respect to congestion price models, given our configurations and traffic patterns as they currently exist,” Baker added.

    Even so, Suzanne LePage, an instructor of civil engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, worries that this would still create a traffic hierarchy based on who can pay. “Anytime you introduce a cost to things, you have to think about equity and justice and is that now restricting access to some people in our population,” she said

    In Virginia, the express lanes are free to buses and people in carpools.  McGurk said that drivers in the free lanes do get a benefit when other drivers hop in the express lane and pay a toll. "Today we actually see time-saving improvements of about 15% at certain times, time-saving reductions for those folks in the regular lanes.”

    Managed lanes are also in use in the Greater Atlanta area.

    Boston 25 News asked drivers at the Natick rest stop about the concept. One said she liked the idea as long as she could pick and choose when she would use them. “Sometimes you just have to get there a lot quicker and other times you have you a bit of leeway.”

    Another wondered how the system would be enforced and said he isn’t sure Massachusetts drivers would like the idea of paying extra regardless of the benefit. 

    Building those additional lanes is also expensive. In Virginia, they had to rebuild dozens of bridges and overpasses just to create 50 miles of express lanes.  

    Still, McGurk said they plan to open a third express lane in a couple of months. 

    Next Up: