As of September 1, 2012, the University Transportation Center for Mobility (UTCM) is no longer an active center of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The archived UTCM website remains available here.

A Guide to Transportation Funding Options

Highway Funding – Tolls

Tolling is a user fee in which a driver pays for the use of a facility on a per trip basis. Tolls can be collected by a state agency, a regional agency or a local agency. The facility can be a lane or lanes, a bridge, a tunnel or a ferry crossing.

Tolling of motor vehicles may be used to:

A history of tolling, a review of current tolling policies, a list of toll projects in operation or under construction and other data is available on the FHWA website (see box).

Various types of tolling programs may be implemented.  The federal government specifically created or continued six tolling variation programs in SAFETEA-LU: 

Express Lanes Demonstration Program

More Information

FHWA Guidelines

This demonstration program permits tolling on selected facilities to manage high levels of congestion, reduce emissions in a non-attainment or maintenance area under the Clean Air Act Amendments or finance additional Interstate lanes for the purpose of reducing congestion.

The Secretary of Transportation is authorized to carry out 15 demonstration projects through 2009 to allow states, public authorities, or public or private entities designated by states to collect a toll from motor vehicles at an eligible toll facility for any highway, bridge, or tunnel, including those located on interstates. An "eligible toll facility" will:

Types of projects that may qualify under this program include:

High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes

HOT Projects

I-15 San Diego, CA (1997) - SANDAG website

I-25 Denver, CO (6/2006) - Colorado DOT website

I-394 Minneapolis, MN (5/2005) - Minnesota DOT website

SR 167 Washington State (5/2008) - Washington State DOT website

These are lanes for which lower occupancy vehicles pay a toll to use the excess capacity available in the exclusive lane. The first conversion of a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane to a HOT lane was in 1997 in San Diego on Interstate 15 (I-15). HOT lanes also operate on US 290 and I-10 in Houston, on I-394 in Minneapolis and on I-25 in Denver. An example of a non-Interstate project is Washington State’s SR 167, open May, 2008. Additional projects are in planning around the country.

Express Lanes

Express Lane Project

SR 91, Orange County, CA, (7/2003) - Orange County Transportation Authority website

These lanes may use a variable price to manage demand on the facility in order to keep traffic flowing at a specified level. The toll rate may vary according to a fixed schedule (State Route 91 in Orange County California) or the toll may vary dynamically, changing as often as every few minutes (HOT lanes in San Diego and Minneapolis).

Exclusive Lanes

Exclusive Lanes Study

HOT and TOT Feasiblity Study for the Atlanta Region (4/2005) - Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority website

These lanes are reserved for a specific vehicle type such as buses or trucks. A toll may be charged for use of these exclusive lanes. Currently there are only a few, very short segments of roadway that operate as exclusive lanes.  These are primarily truck bypass lanes or HOV bypass ramps.  In 2005, the Georgia State Road and Toll Authority completed a study of HOT and truck-only toll (TOT) lanes (see link at right).

HOV and HOT Facilities Program

More Information

FHWA Guidelines

HOV and HOT FAQs - San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission website

SAFETEA-LU replaced Section 102(a) of Title 23 of the United States Code (23 U.S.C. 102[a]) with a new Section 166 that clarifies some aspects of the operation of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) facilities and provides more exceptions to the vehicle occupancy requirements for HOV facilities. It also authorizes States to create high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. Specifically, this section allows States to charge tolls to vehicles that do not meet the established occupancy requirements to use an HOV lane if the State establishes a program that addresses the selection of certified vehicles and procedures that addresses the selection of certified vehicles and procedures to manage the demand of the facility by varying the toll amount and enforcing violations. A toll agreement must be executed between the FHWA, the State Department of Transportation, and operating agencies. Tolls under this section may be charged on both Interstate and non-Interstate facilities. There is no limit on the number of projects or the number of states that can participate.

Note: Conversion projects may qualify under this program or under the express lanes demonstration program above.

Interstate System Construction Toll Pilot Program

Program Information and Projects

FHWA Guidelines

I-73, South Carolina (6/2007) - [MS Word, 972Kb] Source: FHWA website

This program authorizes up to three facilities on the Interstate System to toll for the purpose of financing the construction of new Interstate highways. A State or an interstate "compact of States" may submit a single candidate project under this program. Each applicant must demonstrate that financing the construction of the facility with the collection of tolls is the most efficient and economical way to advance the project. The State must agree not to enter into a noncompete agreement with a private party under which the State is prevented from improving or expanding the capacity of public roads in the vicinity of the toll facility to address conditions resulting from traffic diverted to nearby roads from the toll facility. 

There is no special funding authorized for this program. By law, Interstate maintenance funds may not be used on a facility for which tolls are being collected under this program.

One of the three available slots has been reserved for new construction of I-73 in South Carolina.  This slot is not specific to South Carolina but applies to all of I-73. Thus, additional states wanting to construct segments of I-73 and meeting the program requirements may also do so under this program.

Interstate System Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Pilot Program

Program Information and Projects

FHWA Guidelines

I-70 Toll Project, Missouri (7/2005) [PDF, 709Kb PDF document - For best results, view PDF files with the most recent version of Adobe Reader ] Source: FHWA website

I-81 Toll Project, Virginia (5/2003) - FHWA website

SAFETEA-LU continued the authority initially provided in Section 1216 (b) of TEA-21, which allows up to three existing Interstate facilities (highway, bridge, or tunnel) to be tolled to fund needed reconstruction or rehabilitation on Interstate highway corridors that could not otherwise be adequately maintained or functionally improved without the collection of tolls.

There is no special funding authorized for this program. By law, Interstate maintenance funds may not be used on a facility for which tolls are being collected under this program.

Each of the three facilities must be in a different State. Virginia (2003) and Missouri (2005) are approved participants, but the third slot had not been authorized as of April 2008.

Toll Agreements under Title 23 United States Code, Section 129 (23 USC 129)

More Information

FHWA Guidelines

Under 23 USC 129, Federal participation is allowed in the following five types of toll activities.

If Federal-aid funds are used for construction of or improvements to a toll facility or the approach to a toll facility or if a State plans to reconstruct and convert a free highway, bridge or tunnel previously constructed with Federal-aid funds to a toll facility, a toll agreement under Section 129(a)(3) must be executed. There is no limit to the number of agreements that may be executed.

Value Pricing Pilot (VPP) Program

More Information

FHWA Guidelines

VPP Policy Study - FHWA Office of Transportation website

Federal Register Notice (1/2006) Source: From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access

The VPP program was initially authorized in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) as the Congestion Pricing Pilot Program. Renewed under SAFETEA-LU, VPP encourages implementation and evaluation of value pricing pilot projects to manage congestion on highways through tolling and other pricing mechanisms. This is the only program that provides funding to support studies and implementation aspects of a tolling or pricing project. The program of 15 slots (which FHWA has reserved for "States") has just one vacancy remaining. Each State can have multiple projects.

In addition to providing States and/or other public entities the authority to toll motor vehicles, the Value Pricing Pilot program is unique in providing grants for pre-implementation and non-construction related implementation costs of tolling, and for non-highway related pricing activities.

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