Lee Receives Grants Aimed at Reducing Road Congestion

FORT MYERS, FL, October 12, 2000-- Lee County has received two grants from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to study and put in place programs and facilities that will help reduce road congestion. The first is a $755,000 grant to study expanding the Variable Pricing Program on the Cape Coral and Midpoint Memorial bridges to commercial vehicles. The second is a $386,600 grant to study the idea of “Queue Jumps” – road facilities, such as elevated roads or at-grade lanes, used by certain types of traffic to bypass congestion points. In addition, on Oct. 9 the FHWA informed the county that it would not be required to apply for the implementation phase of the commercial vehicles grant and the county is expecting that $535,000 appropriation by year end. In August 1998, Lee County implemented variable toll pricing on the Midpoint Memorial and Cape Coral bridges. The program – called LeeWay – provides motorists with a 50 percent discount off the $1 toll during selected “off peak” hours as an incentive to change driving habits from peak to off peak times. The program is available only to prepaid – transponder – accounts and also applies only to commuter (two-axle) vehicles. The transponder is automatically read as the motorist passes through the toll plaza and the discount is deducted from the customer’s account. This change in driving habits results in less congestion, more evenly distributes traffic, and will ultimately result in taxpayers savings by delaying or reducing the size of “capacity” improvements to the county’s transportation network. The grant to expand the program would allow heavy vehicles to participate in the program. Variable pricing times are Monday through Friday from 6:30-to-7 a.m., 9-to-11 a.m., 2-to-4 p.m., and 6:30-to-7 p.m. In August, the county permanently added two “express” lanes each direction on the Midpoint Bridge so motorists can pass through without having to stop. The customer’s transponder is simply read at speeds up to 15 mile per hour. Since the start of variable pricing, citizens have saved $792,000 in reduced tolls. The “Queue Jump” program would involve existing locations within Lee County where “Queue Jump” facilities could be reasonably implemented. Use of the Queue Jumps would be limited to those motorists willing to pay a toll or, possibly, also to high occupancy vehicles (HOVs). Tolls would vary by time of day, or degree of congestion. They might also vary depending on the occupancy of the vehicles. Tolling would occur electronically without any manual collection booths or devices. The jump’s tolling system would be tied into the county’s existing Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system. This concept borrows from and builds upon the High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane studies currently sponsored by Federal Highway Administration in San Diego and Houston. Potential locations to be studied for Queue Jumps include the intersections of U.S. 41 and Hancock Bridge Parkway and U.S. 41 and Daniels Pkwy. Other locations will be determined during the study phase of the grant.