Driving during rush hour could cost you.

Lawmakers are considering a form of tolling called "congestion pricing" that would charge drivers for access to certain highway lanes, depending on the time of day. During rush hour, rates would go up, while prices would dip in off-peak hours.

During Wednesday's Transportation Interim Committee, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, pleaded with his colleagues to pass legislation during the 2009 session to start the congestion pricing program.

Stephenson also wants to create a way for single-occupancy drivers who don't buy a monthly pass to drive in the carpool lanes to have a choice of getting in those lanes on any given day and paying as they go.

"Give people free-market choices when they use the highway," Stephenson said. "We can actually eliminate congestion on I-15 through congestion pricing."

But the only way to get more people to drive in the carpool lane would be by extending it to two lanes, Stephenson said.

There's nothing like getting behind a Sunday driver slowly driving in the HOV lane, especially when you can't get around him because of the double-white lines, he said. It's almost like the state is punishing carpool drivers by giving them no way to go around these slow drivers, he said.

"We ought to end the punishment now by extending it to two lanes," Stephenson said.

Technically the state is already using a form of congestion pricing. Single-passenger drivers pay a $50-per-month fee to drive in restricted lanes.

Linda Hull, director of legislative and government affairs for the Utah Department of Transportation, said congestion pricing can be used to raise revenue, but its main purpose is to "guarantee driving time" through pricing.

"You use pricing to keep free flow on a congested corridor," Hull said. "If you pay a price, you are guaranteed to get a good travel time on that corridor."

Hull said UDOT is not considering congestion pricing, but that did not deter Stephenson.

"I just ask that we implement this as soon as possible so that the public can get used to these HOV lanes with an opt-in at any moment," Stephenson said.

Such a system would require new technology, like an EZ-Pass or a chip installed on a car that recognizes trips and charges an account.

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, is sold on the idea.

"You incentify somebody to go to work two hours early and go home two hours early or make deliveries or do night work off of peak hours, so they are trying to get more per lane in off-peak times," Jenkins said.

Others on the committee weren't convinced. They fear congestion pricing will drive people off the freeways and onto the local roads.

"It seems like what we're trying to do is move the traffic from existing arterials to side roads within our community, and frankly I think that is not going to be acceptable for many of our constituents," said Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville.

"The burden on those streets will be immense," said Rep. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley. "Tolling is something that is unacceptable to me."

Chuck Chappell, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, said congestion pricing is not tolling. Instead, it is a way to maintain the integrity of the taxpayers' investment into the highway system

"We must maintain our lanes at optimum flow, or otherwise we're investing in freeway systems that don't pay for what we invest in," Chappell said. Congestion pricing "keeps the freeways flowing free as it should be, with a charge. So free means flowing free, not cash-free."


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