• This first-of-its kind study examined the feasibility of dedicated truck lanes on I-70.

file under: Federal Government, Government, North America, Transportation, United States

Collaborating for Interstate Success

Study shapes the future of interstate transportation

Strategically located in the center of the United States lies Interstate 70—a key east-west throughway that is experiencing congestion and aging infrastructure across many segments. With conditions only projected to worsen, CDM Smith partnered with a unique four-state coalition of Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Illinois departments of transportation (DOT) and each state’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) division office to conduct a truck-only lane (TOL) feasibility study for an 800-mile segment of I-70.

With the escalating cost of roadway materials, increasing number of miles traveled by fuel-efficient vehicles and dwindling funds, we need to do more with less. 

The first-of-its-kind study evaluated the business case for constructing the lanes, such as determining the need, cost, economic benefits, risk and practicality of developing dedicated truck lanes on I-70. “The study is a model for how to successfully implement a large scale, multi-disciplinary project like this,” says Suzann Rhodes, CDM Smith project manager. TOLs—a new concept in the United States—could relieve heavy freight truck congestion and increase road safety for passenger cars between major metropolitan areas in the region.

Funding a Changing Transportation Landscape
Critical to the study was determining if TOLs are a good business investment for state DOTs and FHWA in today’s changing transportation landscape. “Roads and bridges are funded thorough fuel taxes, but Federal fuel taxes have remained constant since 1993,” says Rhodes. “With the escalating cost of roadway materials, increasing number of miles traveled by fuel-efficient vehicles and dwindling funds, we need to do more with less.” While low fuel taxes, fuel-efficient vehicles and more accessible modes of public transportation in metropolitan areas provide benefits to the community, these factors drain transportation funding and leave less money to maintain infrastructure.

The study examined the long-term (40 to 75 years) costs of building lanes just for trucks compared with the current transportation model of shared roadways. It also considered whether maintenance costs would decrease and pavement life increase, if safety and congestion could improve, any economic benefits or environmental impacts, and the willingness of people and motor carriers to pay a toll for the separation.

Relieving Congestion Responsibly
Because I-70 connects major metropolitan areas in the region, including St. Louis, Mo; Indianapolis, Ind; and Columbus, Ohio; one of the largest corridor problems is heavy freight truck congestion. Nearly 70 percent of I-70 is projected to experience congestion by 2045. As trucks get larger and passenger cars smaller, the coalition was also concerned for driver safety. Armed with this information, the researchers sought to discover the direct correlation between congestion and crashes, and whether TOLs could address these issues. 

During its first phase, the feasibility study showed safety and congestion were directly related to freight traffic and that TOLs would reduce truck-car crashes more than 90 percent and general purpose lane crashes by 50 percent. Reduced congestion would also lead to less fuel consumption and improved air quality, as vehicles would spend less time on the roadway. Additionally, the coalition demonstrated environmental stewardship by identifying other sustainable practices and elements, such as LED lights, stormwater wetlands, stream restoration, salt use reduction and wildlife crossings, that could be implemented regardless of whether the TOLs are built in the future.

Paving the Way to Success
In the face of a turbulent funding landscape, proving TOLs could be financially sustainable both during and after construction was essential. An in-depth cost analysis was conducted and funding avenues via tolling and public-private partnerships were explored. Tolling analysis results found that advanced tolling technologies (e.g., transponder-based automatic vehicle identification systems, GPS-based vehicle identification and tracking systems, license plate image-based video tolling systems) would support nearly 86 percent—$48 billion—of the estimated $55 billion project cost.

The coalition’s unique collaboration also presented distinctive management challenges. Typically, state DOTs only address issues within their own borders, but for the study to be successful state leaders had to look beyond to maintain communication and trust. Though challenging, getting all four states involved and engaged proved to be a key for success for the 3-year study.

The study also required a wide range of technical expertise and disciplines. It was essential that transportation planners, design engineers, economists and travel demand modelers, safety and tolling experts, environmentalists, and road and bridge cost estimating teams worked with an integrated, multi-disciplined point-of-view. Thanks to this unique collaborative study that established a solid funding foundation, TOLs have the potential to return an estimated $32 billion in increased economic output for the region and more than $2.5 million in safety benefits, ensuring the future of a safe and reliable roadway for manufacturers and passengers alike.