2009 Annual Forum
Congestion Pricing and Environmental Justice
Jamie Strausz-Clark and Bruce Brown, PRR, email@example.com
In addition to providing funding for our aging transportation infrastructure, congestion pricing can improve traffic flow, safety, and trip reliability. Given these benefits, more states are exploring congestion pricing.
There is concern, however, about the potential unintended consequences of congestion pricing on low-income people, who may not be able to afford the tolls. Will un-tolled alternatives, such as carpooling, riding transit, or taking an alternate route add too much travel time and distance to be viable options? Will low-income people have enough cash to establish or replenish an account for an electronic transponder? Will low-English proficient people understand how to obtain a transponder or use the system? There is very little data to answer these questions.
Environmental Justice laws and regulations require states to evaluate the potential adverse effects of highway projects on low-income and minority people. The stakes are high: transportation officials need to be able to more definitively answer questions about the equity of congestion pricing from policymakers and the public, or risk lawsuits and costly delays to their projects. Reliable data can also provide sound foundation for meaningful mitigation, should it be necessary.
Because environmental justice is an emerging science, however, states are wrestling with how to evaluate the effects of congestion pricing on low-income and minority populations. Typically, to conduct an environmental justice analysis on a highway project, we examine the environment within a specified distance from the project limits, because the project effects – such as increased noise or traffic – should not extend farther than this. Because tolling a roadway or bridge will affect users of the facility as much as it will affect the environment around it, we must supplement the conventional approach when we conduct an environmental justice analysis of a tolled facility.
At the request of the Washington State Department of Transportation, PRR, a multi-disciplinary public affairs firm, has developed a methodology for conducting an environmental justice analysis of tolled facilities. We are using this approach in our evaluation of the effects of tolling the SR 520 Bridge on low-income and minority people.
This paper will present:
- Our research methodology, which includes a transit intercept survey, telephone survey, and focus groups with SR 520 Bridge users;
- Applying our findings to an environmental justice analysis; and
- Recommendations for presenting the analysis to the public and policymakers