With states increasingly considering tolls as a means to finance transportation infrastructure, there is a growing need to quickly assess the feasibility of potential tolling projects.
Toll roads and managed toll lanes, such as high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, can alleviate congestion and offer a convenient alternative for road users. However, such tolled facilities must first demonstrate they are financially viable to be successful. With millions, even billions, of dollars at stake with potential toll projects, the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) is assisting the Texas State Comptroller of Public Accounts office by assessing the reasonableness of traffic and revenue reports regarding potential toll roads.
“Traffic and revenue reports contain an extensive amount of data, trends, calculations and assumptions,” explains Curtis Toews, an economist in the Revenue Estimating Division of the Comptroller’s office. “TTI‘s review of these reports helps ensure that decisions are made based on accurate information.”
In an effort to more quickly generate and review preliminary toll studies and reports with their multiple variables, an enhanced toll project screening model is being developed by Curtis Beaty, associate research engineer and program manager for TTI‘s Dallas Research and Implementation Office. This project is funded through TTI‘s University Transportation Center for Mobility (UTCM) and builds on the Toll Viability Screening Tool (TVST) developed by TTI in conjunction with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in a research project completed in 2004.
The enhanced model will have the ability to examine electronic toll collection, video toll collection, toll violation rates and revenue leakage (i.e., failure to collect revenue for every transaction captured). In addition to taking these items into account, this model will be accessible to a wider range of users by being solely built within Microsoft Excel®. (The previous TVST model required an add-on application to Excel that could cost several hundred dollars.)
“Both as an early screening tool and as a continuing reasonableness test, an enhanced toll project viability model will allow a user to simultaneously examine the interaction of multiple tolling variables and traffic scenarios so that agencies can make more informed decisions,” explains Beaty. “In addition, the enhanced screening tool will analyze the confidence of the resulting revenue estimates and the sensitivity of the model’s results to the input variables.”
While the enhanced model will offer great new capabilities and be a useful tool for those associated with toll road projects, Beaty believes more toll road research is needed: “Several new toll roads have been built in Texas over the last few years, and follow-up research on these roads (i.e., examining what was assumed will happen and is actually happening) would undoubtedly help us improve our initial studies for toll road feasibility reports.”