Feds want pilot programs to address congestion problems

The federal Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration is looking for a few good pilot programs that could help address the nation’s $60+ billion congestion problem. The application deadline for a $10.5 million grant from the Department of Transportation for Value Pricing Pilot (VPP) programs has been extend by two weeks, an announcement said Friday. Originally due next Tuesday, January 18, applications are now due February 2.

First established by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, the VPP program is managed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). FHWA is looking for innovative strategies being considered across the country to reduce congestion. To incentivize state and local transportation officials, grants have been made available to those who demonstrate progress in easing congestion.

In 2003, the Texas Transportation Institute estimated that the 85 largest metropolitan areas experienced 3.7 billion vehicle-hours of delay, resulting in 2.3 billion gallons in wasted fuel and a congestion cost of $63 billion. And traffic volumes are projected to continue growing. The volume of freight movement alone is forecast to nearly double by 2020, FHWA predicts.

Value pricing encompasses a variety of strategies to manage congestion on highways, including tolling of highway facilities through congestion pricing, as well as other strategies that do not involve tolls, such as mileage-based car insurance and parking pricing.

The statutory requirements of the VPP program stipulate that FHWA may enter into cooperative agreements with up to 15 State or local governments or other public authorities to establish, maintain, and monitor VPP programs, each including an unlimited number of projects.

According to an entry in the Federal Register, FHWA prefers that local projects be submitted through state departments of transportation so that other projects in the state can be combined and count as only one of the fifteen allowable projects.

The congestion pricing concept of charging variable fees based upon usage and assessing relatively higher prices for travel during peak periods is the same as that used in many other sectors of the economy to respond to peak-use demands, FHWA officials maintain. For example, airlines, hotels, and electricity companies often charge more at peak periods than at non-peak periods.

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