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Congestion Pricing Case Studies 107 3. Harris County Toll Road Authority Katy Managed Lanes The Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) is a toll authority serving the Greater Hous- ton region. HCTRA was established in 1983 with the voter approval of $900 million in bonds to build local toll roads. HCTRA's annual toll revenues exceeded $440 million in 2009, providing 90 percent of the authority's income. Jurisdictionally, HCTRA is a function of Harris County. The County, in turn, is governed by four geographically based commissioners representing the county precincts and a County Judge who presides over the County Court. These are the deci- sionmakers to whom HCTRA answers. HCTRA's toll system covers over 100 route-miles of roadway in the Houston/Harris County area. Its facilities include the 74-mile circumferential Sam Houston Tollway and the 20-mile Hardy Toll Road, both of which feature fixed tolls collected both manually and electronically. HCTRA also operates the Westpark Tollway, which is the first fully electronic toll road in the United States. HCTRA attempted to address the extensive peak-direction congestion on this two-by-two lane facility by implementing congestion pricing on the facility in September 2007. However, the new toll structure quickly encountered a swell of opposition, forcing the County Court to rescind its approval within a matter of days. HCTRA has established the following goals for its toll facilities: Not superseding toll rate covenants Maintaining an investment grade rating for HCTRA of at least "A" Maintaining toll levels commensurate with toll rate policies associated with private toll road operators Allowing for continued maintenance and orderly improvement of the HCTRA system HCTRA has also been a partner in redeveloping the I-10 Katy Freeway--Houston's major east- west roadway--together with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), and the Metro- politan Transportation Authority of Harris County (METRO). This project involved the 5-year reconstruction of a 12-mile section of the Katy Freeway from west of SH 6 to the I-10/I-610 inter- change, building five general-purpose lanes and two variably priced HOT lanes in each direction. HCTRA provided over $237 million toward the financing of the $2.8 billion project and has the right to operate the facility's HOT lanes until it has recouped its investment. Prior to the reconstruc- tion, the original Katy Freeway, which dated to the 1960s, provided three general-purpose lanes in each direction and a one-lane, reversible flow bus/HOT lane that was available to transit and HOV3 vehicles at no cost and to registered HOV2 vehicles for a fee of $2.00 during peak periods. 3.1. Overview of HCTRA's Congestion Pricing Program The Katy Managed Lanes are a 12-mile HOT-lane facility providing two travel lanes in each direction in the median of I-10. It opened to tolled operations in April 2009, following a 6-month soft launch for HOVs only in October 2008. There are seven access and egress points to the lanes; five from the I-10 general-purpose lanes and two from dedicated park-and-ride transit hubs. The managed lanes are separated from the general-purpose lanes by flexible "candlestick" barriers and have three tolling points. Tolls are collected each time a vehicle passes below one of them. For motorists traveling the entire length of the corridor, tolls are collected three times. During the peak period--7:00 to 9:00 A.M. eastbound and 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. westbound--toll rates are $4.00 for traveling the entire length of the corridor. This rate is reduced to $2.00 during shoulder periods-- 6:00 to 7:00 and 9:00 to 10:00 A.M. eastbound and 4:00 to 5:00 and 7:00 to 8:00 P.M. westbound-- and a rate of $1.00 is charged for trips made at any other time. Passenger cars with two or more passengers and motorcycles are exempted from tolls from 5:00 to 11:00 A.M. and from 2:00 to

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108 Evaluation and Performance Measurement of Congestion Pricing Projects 8:00 P.M., at which time they must pass below tolling points in a dedicated "declaration lane" for vehicle occupancy enforcement periods. At all other times, HOV motorists must pay the dis- counted $1.00 toll for trips on the managed lanes. Commercial vehicles may use the Katy Managed Lanes at any time and incur a fixed toll of $7.00 at each of the facility's three toll collection points. 3.2. What Is Monitored? The full spectrum of HCTRA's performance monitoring activities is provided in the accom- panying Facility Performance Monitoring Summary Matrix for the Katy Managed Lanes. The matrix is a comprehensive record of all current, known metrics used to monitor performance on the facility, organized by evaluation category. Provided in the matrix for each metric used are frequency of collection, purpose, a simple indication of importance, and particular characteri- zations of the metric that relate back to agency/facility goals or applications. An expanded ver- sion of the matrix providing sources of information and other notes is included in the Final Report for NCHRP 08-75 which is available online. The matrix is intended to be a visual overview of HCTRA's complete monitoring effort, easily comparable to other HOT-lane facilities with similar matrix summaries. A more qualitative discussion of how these metrics are applied in practice and which ones are the most significant is provided below. Not all metrics noted in the matrix are discussed here. With its sophisticated tolling systems, HCTRA collects comprehensive data on toll transac- tions. This includes the number of transactions, toll rates charged, time of transaction, direction of travel, and vehicle type. HCTRA does not have a formal program for monitoring other aspects of the performance of the Katy Managed Lanes. HCTRA receives feedback on the facility from the county commissioners and through the Katy Managed Lanes website. HCTRA reports that there have been few complaints since the facility opened. HCTRA reports that its pricing policy was established shortly before the opening of the Katy Managed Lanes. HCTRA adopted a simple toll structure with three rates of $1.00, $2.00, and $4.00 for off-peak, shoulder, and peak periods, respectively. Currently, volumes on the managed lanes are nearing the peak capacity level of 2,200 vehicles per hour per lane at certain times. As a result, HCTRA is analyzing volume data to develop a new schedule of rates that will sustain expected traffic levels for at least 6 months without adjustment. The new rate structure will be modeled after the SR-91 Express Lanes in Orange County, California, which have fixed variable pricing with different rates assigned to different days of the week and hours and direction of travel. HCTRA has not completed any formal analyses to determine how much toll rates would need to increase to cause drivers to stop using the managed lanes. As a result, it will study vol- umes closely after the rates are changed to ascertain what the effect has been. Prior to the opening of the Katy Managed Lanes, HCTRA expected that the facility would lose money. However, monthly revenue has been approximately $550,000; while annual mainte- nance costs amount to only $350,000. Revenue from the Katy Managed Lanes is "coded" and traceable and is not initially pooled with toll proceeds from other HCTRA facilities. This enables HCTRA and its partners to track the extent to which it has been able to recoup its $237.5 mil- lion contribution toward the reconstruction of the Katy Freeway. 3.3. Other Essential Data Gathering Activities Prior to the opening of the Katy Managed Lanes, HCTRA conducted customer satisfaction surveys across its toll system and also held public meetings along the I-10 corridor. These out- reach efforts revealed that there was some resistance to the concept of congestion pricing and

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Congestion Pricing Case Studies 109 confusion on why prices could change during a person's drive. Initially, in an effort to maximize revenues from the lanes, HCTRA intended to exempt registered HOV3 motorists from tolls and charge all other vehicles for using the facility. However, this issue proved particularly contentious during the public meetings, so HCTRA changed its operational strategy to exempt HOV2 vehi- cles from paying tolls during the highest hours of demand and not require that they register to use the facility. The change in the proposed toll structure also coincided with a change in HCTRA's management. Prior to the opening of the Katy Managed Lanes, HCTRA staff visited several other operating HOT lanes in person to learn more about them and the different ways in which they operate. HCTRA staff found these visits extremely helpful and informative, and also left them with an understanding that each of the HOT-lane facilities operating in the United States is unique. The HCTRA managed lane team was able to incorporate bits and pieces of strategies and lessons learned from several of the facilities they visited into the operation of the Katy facility. In par- ticular, the SR-91 was influential and led to HCTRA's decision to used fixed variable pricing rather than dynamic pricing. HCTRA staff have been pleased with the outcome of that decision and stated that their experience from the site visits has encouraged them to opt for simplicity whenever possible. 3.4. Why Performance Evaluation Takes Place and How Performance Monitoring Data Is Used HCTRA performance monitoring activities are modest compared to those of other agencies operating priced toll facilities. The primary purpose of HCTRA monitoring and evaluation work is to ensure that the Katy Managed Lanes do not exceed their designated capacity of 2,200 vehi- cles per hour per lane. While there is often a desire to maintain the status quo while things are working, utilization of the Katy Managed Lanes has been higher than expected in its first year of operation, and during the six-month soft launch, as many as 1,400 HOV motorists used the lanes during the peak hour. HCTRA recognizes that its toll policies will need to change to keep up with growing traffic and is developing a new fixed variably priced toll structure. 3.5. What Additional Performance Metrics or Data Would be Helpful to HCTRA or Other Agencies Considering Congestion Pricing? HCTRA staff are not certain whether performance monitoring guidelines would have been helpful to them had they been available prior to the opening of the Katy Managed Lanes. From their site visits and investigations of other operating HOT lanes, they found that no one facility or location is the same. Some of the most important distinctions in their opinion were the dif- ferent types of operating agencies and back office procedures, as well as the presence or lack of other toll facilities in the region. They believe that determining how a priced facility will operate is facility-specific and needs to be driven by local conditions. Prior to opening the Katy Managed Lanes, HCTRA did not know whether use would be high or low. Although they had not originally intended to open the facility in a phased sequence-- first to HOVs only and then later to paying vehicles--the ultimate decision to do so was extremely helpful on several fronts. Most importantly, it provided HCTRA with an excellent understanding of HOV utilization in the corridor, which (as stated earlier at 1,400 vehicles dur- ing the peak hour) was higher than expected, and whether or not any operational issues could be enhanced. The soft launch period also gave the public time to become accustomed to the lanes and for HCTRA to conduct outreach activities. With local elections following the soft opening by 1 month in November 2008, a county judge who was up for election came out in

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110 Evaluation and Performance Measurement of Congestion Pricing Projects Congestion Pricing Case Studies 111 Table 3-1. Harris County Toll Road Authority Katy Managed Lanes summary matrix.

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112 Evaluation and Performance Measurement of Congestion Pricing Projects support of the lanes and later assisted HCTRA in developing a television commercial for them. Although they cite the soft launch as "dumb luck" necessitated by delays in implementing toll collection equipment in the corridor, HCTRA staff believe a phased opening might be beneficial to other operators launching new congestion pricing facilities. One area that HCTRA wishes it has been able to improve was streamlining the manage- ment of the variable message signs deployed in the I-10 corridor. HCTRA believes it has devoted an inordinate amount of time to managing its software and functioning of its vari- able message signs.