Congestion begins when an excess of vehicles on a segment of roadway at a given time, resulting in speeds that are significantly slower than normal or 'free flow' speeds. Congestion often means stop-and-go traffic. The transition occurs when vehicle density (the number of vehicles per mile in a lane) exceeds a critical level. Once traffic enters a state of congestion, recovery or time to return to a free-flow state is lengthy; and during the recovery process, delay continues to accumulate. The breakdown in speed and flow greatly impedes the efficient operation of the freeway system, resulting in economic, mobility, environmental and safety problems. Freeways are designed to function as access-controlled highways characterized by uninterrupted traffic flow so references to freeway performance relate primarily to the quality of traffic flow or traffic conditions as experienced by users of the freeway. The maximum flow or capacity of a freeway segment is reached while traffic is moving freely. As a result, freeways are most productive when they carry capacity flows at 60 mph, whereas lower speeds impose freeway delay, resulting in bottlenecks. Bottlenecks may be caused by physical disruptions, such as a reduced number of lanes, a change in grade, or an on-ramp with a short merge lane. This type of bottleneck occurs on a predictable or 'recurrent' basis at the same time of day and same day of week. Recurrent congestion totals 45% of congestion and is primarily from bottlenecks (40%) as well as inadequate signal timing (5%). Nonrecurring bottlenecks result from crashes, work zone disruptions, adverse weather conditions, and special events that create surges in demand and that account for over 55% of experienced congestion. Figure 1.1 shows that nonrecurring congestion is composed of traffic incidents (25%), severe weather (15%), work zones, (10%), and special events (5%). Between 1995 and 2005, the average percentage change in increased peak traveler delay, based on hours spent in traffic in a year, grew by 22% as the national average of hours spent in delay grew from 36 hours to 44 hours. Peak delay per traveler grew one-third in medium-size urban areas over the 10 year period. The traffic engineering community has developed an arsenal of integrated tools to mitigate the impacts of congestion on freeway throughput and performance, including pricing of capacity to manage demand for travel. Congestion pricing is a strategy which dynamically matches demand with available capacity. A congestion price is a user fee equal to the added cost imposed on other travelers as a result of the last traveler's entry into the highway network. The concept is based on the idea that motorists should pay for the additional congestion they create when entering a congested road. The concept calls for fees to vary according to the level of congestion with the price mechanism applied to make travelers more fully aware of the congestion externality they impose on other travelers and the system itself. The operational rationales for the institution of pricing strategies are to improve the efficiency of operations in a corridor and/or to better manage congestion. To this end, the objectives of this project were to: (1) Better understand and quantify the impacts of congestion pricing strategies on traffic operations through the study of actual projects, and (2) Better understand and quantify the impacts of congestion pricing strategies on traffic operations through the use of modeling and other analytical methods. Specifically, the project was to identify credible analytical procedures that FHWA can use to quantify the impacts of various congestion pricing strategies on traffic flow (throughput) and congestion.
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