Congestion Pricing in Washington, D.C.

Congestion Charge ZoneLast week we reviewed congestion pricing in Toronto, Ontario. This is Canada’s largest city and North America’s fourth largest.

This week, we review congestion pricing in the United States, specifically in Washington, D.C.

In January, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board released a report on congestion pricing research and the public’s perception in Washington, D.C. Many experts have agreed that congestion pricing would help reduce congestion while providing funding for additional initiatives. However, one of the main deterrents of congestion pricing is public opposition, which is the focus of this research report.


Congestion in Washington, D.C.

According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s annual survey of U.S. metro area traffic, Washington D.C. was ranked as the metropolitan area with the highest number of wasted hours in gridlock. In 2011, Washington drivers spent 67 hours in traffic which equates to 32 gallons of wasted fuel and a productivity cost of $1,398 per vehicle.

Congestion in DC

The congestion is will worsen based on estimates by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board.

The Board estimates that between 2013 and 2040, miles travelled by vehicles will increase 25% while road space will only increase by 7%. This is estimated to cause 78% more peak hour morning congestion.

In order to mitigate the growing congestion, road pricing projects are being implemented and three of the five most expensive transit projects are toll-related. These toll revenues will fund the most expensive transit project which is the extension of the Metrorail to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County. It is anticipated that toll fees will significantly increase during this project and will remain high for many years.


Opposition for Congestion Pricing in Washington, D.C.

Many of the participants of this study agreed that congestion is a critical problem in the Washington, D.C. area. High levels of congestion frustrated participants as they felt it robbed them of a sense of control in their lives especially since many felt they didn’t have any other transportation options.

Participants who wanted more transportation options and alternatives failed to connect the lack of funding available or the extent of funding that is required. In fact, participants were generally unaware of how transportation is funded and that the federal gas tax hasn’t risen in nearly 20 years and is not based on inflation.

Some of the reasons for participants’ opposition is based on losing privacy and choice. As many feel vehicle transportation is not an option, paying for travel routes should be. Participants stated if more alternative choices were available, they would be more favourable for congestion pricing as they would have the choice to select their mode of transportation.

Congestion pricing doesn’t seem to resonate with the participants as an effective method for mitigate congestion. In fact, many of the participants lacked confidence in the government’s ability to solve the transportation problems even if there was sufficient funding. However, if funding was effectively used for alternative transportation options with adequate transparency and accountability, participants were more supportive.

Congestion Funding Perceptions

Conclusions of Study and Public Opinion

At the end of the study, which included education and discussions, participants were more favourable of congestion pricing. Support increased for priced lanes on all major highways, pricing on all streets and roads and an increase in raising gas taxes.

It seems that more education on the current congestion situation and the options available garnered more public support. Participants did state that congestion pricing can play a role in the future, however it should be tailored to the Region’s needs and make most of the current infrastructure. Also, all common sense and ‘quick win’ options should be exhausted first before any major congestion pricing changes.

Support for Raising Gas Tax

Solution for Reducing Congestion

Cities with growing congestion are looking at numerous options to implement such as congestion charges. One alternative option to consider is adaptive signal control for high traffic intersections which will adjust the timing of red, yellow and green lights in real-time. This solution caters to the current traffic and can reduce congestion and queue times.

For additional information on adaptive signal control, check out