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Chapter 1: Introduction

In June 2006, a team of 11 transportation planning, design, and operations experts from the United States visited five European countries to assess and evaluate various practices related to the congestion management programs, policies, and experiences that are being planned, have been implemented, or are operating on freeway facilities. This scan also sought information on how agencies plan for and design managed lanes at the system, corridor, and project or facility levels. During this trip, the team members heard numerous presentations about congestion management policies, strategies, and practices from a variety of perspectives, including national, state, and local transportation agencies, as well as current research efforts to assist these efforts. Using the information obtained during the trip, the team identified several areas in which U.S. practices have the potential to be improved. This report describes the team's findings and recommendations.


The Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Office of International Programs focuses on meeting the growing demands of its partners at the Federal, State, and local levels for access to information on state-of-the-art technology and the best practices used worldwide. As part of this office, the International Technology Exchange Program accesses and evaluates innovative foreign technologies and practices that could significantly benefit U.S. highway transportation systems. This approach allows for advanced technology to be adapted and put into practice efficiently without spending scarce research funds to recreate advances already developed by other countries.(1) The main avenue for accessing foreign innovations is the International Technology Scanning Program. The program is undertaken jointly with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP).

Planning for the congestion management scanning study began in November 2005 with a desk scan that recommended Denmark, England, Germany, and the Netherlands as the four countries to visit. The initial team meeting occurred in December 2005 in Washington, DC, and the trip took place June 2–8, 2006. As part of the trip, the scan team participated in the First International Symposium on Freeway and Tollway Operations in Athens, Greece, June 4–7, 2006.


The continued growth in travel along congested urban freeway corridors is exceeding the ability of transportation agencies to provide sufficient roadway capacity in major metropolitan areas with limited public funding for roadway expansion and improvement projects. High construction costs, constrained right-of-way, and environmental factors are pushing agencies to explore context-sensitive solutions, such as managed lanes, to mitigate the detrimental effects of congestion while optimizing the use of limited public funding.

The purpose of this scan was to examine the congestion management programs, policies, and experiences of other countries that are in the planning stages, have been implemented, or are operating on freeway facilities. This scan sought information on how agencies approach highway congestion, actively manage and operate freeway facilities, and plan for and design managed lanes at the system, corridor, and project or facility levels. It builds on two other scans that focused on travel demand management and traffic incident response. The travel demand management scan assessed European approaches to managing demand for automobile and truck travel through such means as traveler information, technology, improved modal options, pricing, and new institutional arrangements.(2) The traffic incident response scan studied traffic incident response practices, procedures, and technologies across Europe.(3) While demand management and incident response relate to the purpose of this scan and are components of congestion management, this scan's primary focus was on agencies' use of managed lanes to provide additional roadway capacity and flexible operating strategies to respond to changing traffic conditions. The scan also assessed European experiences to determine how agencies can integrate managed lane strategies into their congestion management program, network, and corridor planning and how managed lanes fit within the development of highway improvement projects. To help the host countries address the team's concerns, a set of amplifying questions (see Appendix C) was provided to the hosts several months before the trip.

Congestion Management and Managed Lanes in the United States

The U.S. highway system is a critical component of American life. It provides extensive and flexible personal mobility to American citizens and efficient freight movement to support the domestic economy.(4) Both of these services are affected by investment and location decisions that governmental entities across the country make in their planning processes. However, an increase in travel, congestion, and environmental and financial constraints interfere with the system's ability to provide these services. For example, the growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) continues to outpace lane mile growth across the country. Between 1993 and 2000, VMT increased 2.7 percent annually while the number of U.S. lane miles grew only 0.2 percent annually.(4) This growth in travel places a strain on an already-overburdened transportation system.

Congestion in urban areas of the United States is increasing. It occurs on more roads during longer parts of the day, delaying more travelers every year.(5) "Rush hour" grows longer and costs Americans dearly in delays, increased fuel consumption, lost productivity, and related crashes. Congestion interferes with daily life, and any method to alleviate it, such as managed lane projects, can reduce its impact on productivity. Another reality of improving the transportation infrastructure today is that agencies must function within environmental constraints. Agencies must consider the environment in planning transportation projects, minimize the negative impacts of construction, and work to reduce transportation-related pollution in the process. They must demonstrate environmental stewardship and improve the environmental quality of their transportation decisionmaking.(6)

Financial constraints are another burden for transportation agencies. As public resources become scarcer, State and local governments are challenged to meet growing transportation needs with limited funding.(7) An emerging trend in transportation spending is the reality that State and local governments are devoting a larger share of their capital spending to preserving their existing transportation infrastructure, leaving less money for new roads and bridges and system enhancements.(4) As a result, agencies are seeking alternative funding mechanisms and innovative finance techniques for critical projects.

Congestion management is a primary strategy that U.S. agencies use to operate their facilities in this environment. As figure 1 illustrates, a variety of factors, both recurring and nonrecurring, cause congestion for American travelers. Thus, FHWA has designated congestion mitigation as one of its "vital few" priorities and is targeting resources to develop and sustain regional partnerships to address all aspects of congestion.(8) Various operational and management strategies and methods exist for mitigating congestion and its impact on roadway users. For example, to combat recurring congestion in the freeway environment, which accounts for about 45 percent of all congestion in the United States, agencies undertake freeway management and traffic operations through policies, strategies, and actions to enhance mobility.(8) These strategies include roadway improvements such as widening and bottleneck removal, operational improvements, ramp management and control, and managed lanes. Mitigation techniques for nonrecurring congestion include management of incidents, work zones, road weather, and planned special events.(8) All of these strategies center on the theme of getting more out of facilities already in place.

Figure 1: Causes of congestion in the United States.

Pie chart of causes of traffic congestion in the United States.

Managed lanes, a component of congestion management, are defined as highway facilities or a set of lanes in which operational strategies are implemented and managed (in real time) in response to changing conditions to preserve unimpeded flow. They are distinguished from traditional forms of lane management strategies in that they are proactively implemented and managed and may involve using more than one operational strategy with the goal of achieving unimpeded flow. Figure 2(10) is a diagram often used by FHWA and other U.S. agencies to illustrate the potential lane management strategies that fall into this broad definition of managed lanes. On the left of the diagram are the applications of a single managed lane operational strategy–pricing, vehicle eligibility, or access control. In the middle of the diagram are more complicated managed lane facilities that combine more than one strategy. The multifaceted facilities on the far right of the diagram are those that incorporate or combine multiple lane management strategies. Managed lane projects have the potential to improve mobility while reducing the increase in pollution and minimizing the impact on the environment. They also have the potential to better use existing facilities and reduce the impact of the increase in travel. They may lend themselves to alternative funding mechanisms, thereby reducing financial constraints and allowing projects to be completed sooner than under traditional funding schemes.

Figure 2: Typical U.S. managed lane facilities and applications.

Diagram of typical U.S. managed lane facilities and applications.

The primary purpose of managed lanes is to improve the performance of freeway facilities. Managed lane strategies can be operated and different strategies can be applied to accomplish mobility, safety, community, financial, and homeland security goals. All of these goals are ways a region can improve the overall quality of life for its citizens and ensure the long-term viability of the community. For example, typical mobility goals include providing a transportation system that can handle current and future demand, increasing mobility and accessibility by offering travel options, providing additional facility capacity, optimizing the capacity of existing managed lanes, providing congestion relief, and modifying travel demand.(9) Furthermore, managed lane strategies can be linked to specific objectives a region is trying to achieve, including increasing vehicle-, person-, and goods-carrying capacity; maintaining free-flow speed; maintaining or improving level of service; reducing travel time; and increasing trip reliability. These goals and objectives can help a region and other stakeholders clearly identify which managed lane operational strategies are best suited for the region.

Incorporating managed lanes into the planning and investment decisionmaking process requires agencies and regions to consider managed lanes as a viable congestion management strategy. Critical issues that agencies need to address when planning managed lanes include geometric design and cross section, traveler information needs, traffic control devices, enforcement, environmental justice, evaluation and monitoring, funding and financing, incident management, interoperability, interim and special use, operational flexibility, and pricing as an option.(9) While these planning considerations are general transportation factors that can apply to virtually any mode, they have particular ramifications within the managed lanes context. For example, the challenges of operational flexibility are evident when considering a change in the operation of an existing restricted-use lane, restricting the use of a lane not currently restricted, or adding additional roadway capacity to accommodate changes. Based on these challenges, agencies recognize that implementing managed lanes within a freeway corridor or region is a long-term endeavor that may evolve over time. Thus, throughout the entire planning process, an agency should consider these issues when assessing managed lane strategies as potential solutions to the region's transportation needs and when formulating the long-range regional plan and implementation program. The initial desk scan did not indicate that managed lanes facilities, as defined in the United States, are operating in many places across Europe, nor are they in the planning phases in most European countries. Acknowledging this fact, the team decided to visit the selected countries to assess their policies, programs, and commitment to proactively manage and operate their highway facilities. Moreover, the team wanted to learn about the operational strategies these countries use and their positions on the use of managed lanes as part of their overall approach to operations and traffic management. The intent was to identify key issues for agencies to consider when developing a proactive congestion management program, including planning for, designing, and operating managed lane facilities, and how an agency can integrate managed lane operational strategies into the various decisionmaking processes related to roadway infrastructure investment.

Active Traffic Management–A Definition

The scan team arrived in Europe with the intent of examining congestion management programs, policies, and experiences, and how they plan for and implement managed lanes. What the team uncovered during the trip was that and more: a complete package of strategies that make up the broader concept of active traffic management. This approach to congestion management is a more holistic approach that can include the current U.S. application of managed lane strategies to congested freeway corridors. It is the next step in congestion management.

What is active traffic management as the scan team envisions its application in the United States? It is the ability to dynamically manage recurrent and nonrecurrent congestion based on prevailing traffic conditions. Focusing on trip reliability, it maximizes the effectiveness and efficiency of the facility. It increases throughput and safety through the use of integrated systems with new technology, including the automation of dynamic deployment to optimize performance quickly and without the delay that occurs when operators must deploy operational strategies manually. This congestion management approach consists of a combination of operational strategies that, when implemented in concert, fully optimize the existing infrastructure and provide measurable benefits to the transportation network and the motoring public. These strategies, discussed in more detail in Chapter 2, include speed harmonization, temporary shoulder use, junction control, and dynamic signing and rerouting. Managed lanes, as applied in the United States, are an obvious addition to this collection. In addition, various institutional issues essential to the successful implementation of active traffic management include a customer orientation; the priority of operations in planning, programming, and funding processes; cost-effective investment decisions; public-private partnerships; and a desire for consistency across borders.

The scan team saw the European approach in action in each of the countries visited: Denmark, England, Germany, and the Netherlands. Through deployment of these strategies, agencies in these countries have control over entire facilities and are able to fully optimize the investment in the infrastructure to meet the needs of the customer. Depending on the location and the combination of strategies deployed, specific benefits Europe has measured as a result of this congestion management approach include the following:

These countries have been able to implement active traffic management and gain acceptance from the public and policymakers because they are seeing real results. For this reason, the scan team firmly believes that active traffic management is the next evolution in congestion management in the United States and we have much to learn from the experiences in Europe to make it a reality at home.

Team Members

The 11 team members–all with expertise in planning, designing, and operating transportation facilities–included individuals from four State transportation agencies, the private sector, and FHWA. On the team were Chuck Fuhs of Parsons Brinckerhoff, Charlie Howard of the Puget Sound Regional Council, Raymond Krammes of FHWA, Beverly Kuhn of the Texas Transportation Institute, Robin Mayhew of FHWA, Mohammad Mirshahi of the Virginia Department of Transportation (DOT) (co-chair), Margaret Moore of the Texas DOT, Jon Obenberger of FHWA (co-chair), Khani Sahebjam of the Minnesota DOT, Craig Stone of the Washington State DOT, and Jessie Yung of FHWA. Appendix A contains contact information and team member biographies. Figure 3 shows the scan team in front of the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany.

Figure 3: Scan team members in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany: (left to right) Robin Mayhew, Jon Obenberger, Chuck Fuhs, Ray Krammes, Mohammad Mirshahi, Craig Stone, Meg Moore, Jessie Yung, Khani Sahebjam, Charlie Howard, and Beverly Kuhn.

Photo of scan team members standing behind BASt sign in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany: (left to right) Robin Mayhew, Jon Obenberger, Chuck Fuhs, Ray Krammes, Mohammad Mirshahi, Craig Stone, Meg Moore, Jessie Yung, Khani Sahebjam, Charlie Howard, and Beverly Kuhn.

Team Meetings and Travel Itinerary

During the 2-week trip, the team participated in the First International Symposium on Freeway and Tollway Operations and visited representatives in Denmark, England, Germany, and the Netherlands. The team members left the United States on June 2, 2006, and held their first team meeting on June 4. After participating in the symposium in Athens, Greece, the team departed for Germany and met with the German hosts on June 8–9, including meetings in Bergisch-Gladbach, Cologne, and Frankfurt. The team held a midpoint meeting on June 11. The team met next with representatives in Copenhagen, Denmark, on June 12 and with hosts in the Netherlands June 13–14 in Rotterdam and Utrecht. The team members then traveled to England, where they met with representatives of several groups in Birmingham and London June 15–16. The team held a wrap-up meeting on June 17 and a final meeting August 29–30 in Washington, DC. Table 1 summarizes the team meetings and travel schedule.

Table 1: Team meetings.
Date Location Purpose or Host
December 13, 2005 Washington, DC Initial team meeting to determine emphasis areas and develop amplifying questions.
June 4, 2006 Athens, Greece Kickoff trip meeting to review travel plan and make note-keeping assignments.
June 4–7, 2006 Athens, Greece First International Symposium on Freeway and Tollway Operations
June 8–9, 2006 Bergisch-Gladbach, Cologne, and Frankfurt, Germany Meet with German hosts.
June 11, 2006 Lund, Sweden Midtrip meeting to review findings to date and initiate draft report outline.
June 12, 2006 Copenhagen, Denmark Meet with Danish hosts.
June 13–14, 2006 Rotterdam and Utrecht, Netherlands Meet with Dutch hosts.
June 15–16, 2006 Birmingham and London, England Meet with English hosts.
June 17, 2006 London, England Final trip meeting to identify key findings, develop preliminary recommendations, and finalize report outline.
August 29–30, 2006 Washington, DC Final team meeting to finalize report and implementation plan.

Host Delegations

During the 2-week trip, the team members met with representatives from the various national and regional transportation agencies in the host countries. A list of individuals the team met with and contact information are in Appendix D. Many organizations represented in the meetings are known by acronyms, which are based on the native-language name of the organization. The team also visited several sites in the five countries, listed in table 2.

Table 2: Sites visited during the scan.
Country Sites Visited Location
  • Attiki Odos Headquarters, Maintenance Yards, and Traffic Management Center
  • Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt)
  • Traffic Control Center Hessen
  • Copenhagen Area Project
  • Danish Road Directorate
The Netherlands
  • AVV Transport Research Center
  • National Traffic Management Center (VCNL)
  • National Traffic Control Center
  • West Midlands Traffic Control Center
  • Highways Agency Headquarters

Report Organization

The purpose of this report is to describe the innovative approach to congestion management and managed lanes examined in each city, summarize the findings from the scan trip, suggest strategies that might be applicable to the United States, and recommend activities that might increase awareness and knowledge of the need to and means for planning for congestion management and managed lanes in light of this European experience.

Chapter 2 summarizes the visits to each country, both to provide a context for implementation and to reveal the full range of strategies and techniques explored. Chapter 3 presents the key findings from the scan, organized by primary challenges the European countries face, their approach to congestion management, examples of managed lanes operational in Europe, and the direction of managed lanes in the countries visited. Chapter 4 provides an overall assessment of active management and its potential role in the United States. Chapter 5 summarizes the implementation plan for the scan.

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