Toll Roads and Global Warming

Illustration of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority MoPac Express Lane congestion pricing.

Mopac Express Lane utilizes congestion pricing to encourage carpooling and the use of public transit to reduce traffic congestion and positively impact emissions.

Regardless of where one stands on the issue of global warming, we all can agree on two important tenets: We care about the environment, and we want to decrease traffic congestion efficiently and economically.

In its June 2009 report, “10 Cool Global Warming Policies,” the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) provides 10 recommended policies that make sense regardless of the real or perceived threat of global warming. Number 6 on that list? “Increase Use of Toll Roads with Congestion Pricing.”

This pricing model means that toll lane rates vary according to time of day to combat traffic delays, while decreasing energy use and emissions.

“No-Regrets” policies

The report’s authors dub these policies “no-regrets” policies because they deem them to benefit society in both the absence and presence of a global warming threat.

As cited in the report, “no-regrets” policies are characterized by any of five features, ranging from decreased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, to not imposing significant economic costs on society.

Toll roads, the authors noted, “improve energy efficiency and increase societal resiliency and adaptability.”

What is congestion pricing?

Congestion pricing is when tolling authorities charge higher fees during rush, or peak, hours versus the toll charged during non-

Illustration of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority variable tolling model for the MoPac Express lane.

Variable tolling helps keep traffic flowing during rush hour by providing multiple transportation options for commuters.

peak times. The rationale is that higher fees during typically congested peak hours will encourage those making discretionary trips during those times to change to non-peak hours to avoid paying the higher fees. The NCPA report estimates that almost one out of every four rush-hour drivers are making trips that could be moved to less congested periods.

The increased tolls could also encourage other behavior changes, such as carpooling and using public transit, that would also reduce traffic congestion and positively impact emissions.

The Mobility Authority has adopted the congestion pricing model for the MoPac Express Lanes for these reasons.

The toll road effect

Even without congestion pricing, well-planned toll roads can ease congestion and reduce emissions that accompany it. In the Mobility Authority’s 2009 study on the 183A Toll Road, commuters who elected to take the 183A toll route reduced their travel time by an average of 15 minutes, or over 75 percent, than when US 183 was their only option. After the toll road was built and traffic eased on US 183, those taking 183A still reduced their average travel time by approximately 6 to 7 minutes than when taking US 183.

The study also found reduced emissions and fuel consumption for both peak and off-peak hours, with an annual fuel cost savings of $281, leading to a total estimated annual fuel savings of 664,723 gallons with a cost savings of $1,728,280.

The data indicates that for every vehicle that uses the 183A Toll Road, overall emissions within the study area are significantly reduced versus all vehicles using US 183 only.

Although the total life cycle analysis of the carbon footprint was not evaluated as part of this study, the study demonstrates a reduction of vehicle carbon footprint for the 183A Toll Road through a reduction of vehicle emissions as seen in the CO2 and CO calculated annual reductions. The annual reduction in emissions and fuel consumption was calculated to be:

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions reduced by 28% (7,231.9 Tons/Yr)
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) emissions reduced by 47% (21.8 Tons/Yr)
  • Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) reduced by 56%
  • Total Hydrocarbon (THC) emissions reduced by 37%
  • Fuel consumption reduced by 26%

Planning for now and the future

Thoughtful road planning and designing bring many benefits. We are encouraged by the evidence that congested pricing improves traffic flow while reducing pollution in cities all over the world. London traffic declined by 15 percent with congestion pricing, with a travel time reduction of 30 percent, while boasting a 37 percent average increase in traffic speed and reducing particulate matter and nitrogen oxides by 12 percent, and CO2 by 20 percent. Other global cities report similar positive effects.

Texans care about their environment, their future and their freedom. Understanding commuting choices, their benefits and drawbacks, allows drivers to choose among transportation options that make sense for them, and that fit their priorities within a larger society. The Mobility Authority is committed to those priorities and in providing responsible and sensible options to meet them.

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