Within the next year, Tampa Bay is poised to join cities around the globe that charge more for vehicles on toll roads during rush hour in locations prone to congestion.
The variable pricing is referred to as dynamic tolling.
Dynamic tolling is based on supply and demand: tolls increase during peak travel hours, based on the level of congestion. The toll is higher during peak periods when demand is greater and lower during non-peak periods when the demand is less.
Drivers have advance notification, via overhead signs, and can choose to pay more for a quicker trip. Generally, there’s a price cap for the toll rate. Transportation experts say this congestion pricing helps maintain traffic flowing freely by monitoring the number of vehicles accessing the lanes with dynamic tolling.
In Florida, I-95 opened with lanes dedicated to dynamic tolling in 2016, and additional segments of the interstate are under construction. In central Florida, the I-4 Ultimate Project, a 21-mile stretch of interstate in Orange and Seminole counties, is under construction. The added toll lanes are expected to open, featuring dynamic tolling, in 2021.
The Veterans Expressway in Tampa (SR-589) will be the first in the Tampa Bay area to get a dynamically-priced express lane. The express lane opened earlier this year has a static toll rate, but that will change. The original Veterans Expressway lanes will remain as general-purpose toll lanes.
The Florida Turnpike Enterprise will implement dynamic tolling following completion of a project by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) designed to alleviate congestion at the bottleneck caused by the Veterans, SR-60, and I-275 coming together near the Tampa International Airport, anticipated in summer 2019.
The Gateway Expressway in Pinellas County, currently under construction, may include dynamic toll lanes. And, eventually, dynamic tolling may exist on an expanded Howard Frankland Bridge, still being designed, and new I-4 lanes between Tampa and Lakeland, which have not been approved or designed yet.
Dr. Steve Polzin, with the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida, says it’s not unusual for the implementation of dynamic tolling to be met with some backlash.
“Some people are going to cringe, and that’s a natural reaction,” Polzin says. “But, the reality is, one way or another we need to pay for our mobility.”
Polzin points to the public’s reluctance to pay increased taxes for transportation, and adds that the United States hasn’t increased the gas tax in decades. He says more metropolitan areas are implementing dynamic tolling to fund a backlog of transportation and infrastructure projects.
In many cases, he notes that a significant share of the tolls are paid by freight and commercial services, such as delivery drivers.
“These are some of the folks that are willing to pay that premium toll, because time is money for them and the equipment they’re driving,” Polzin says.
Whether or not the dynamically tolled lanes on the Veterans Expressway will be open to heavy trucks hasn’t been announced. However, the Florida Turnpike project underway along I-4 in Orlando states heavy trucks will initially not be permitted, however there’s an ongoing discussion at the state level, and restrictions may be based on the number of axles or weight. Current plans for the I-4 project state that no trailers of any kind will be permitted, regardless of the type of vehicle towing it. It’s possible a similar plan will be implemented for the Veterans Expressway.