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What are express lanes?

Also known as fast lanes, these are special lanes located in cities or on highways in order to speed up traffic.

Express lanes are proposed as an alternative to the old method of widening roads to meet demand. These lanes promote more efficient travel. An express lane can be implemented in different ways, depending on the specific needs of the road and its users.

What different types of express lanes are there?

Each city and country designs different types of express lanes according to the needs of its users, the characteristics of the traffic it is seeking to avoid, and also its road planning objectives. Broadly speaking, the different types of express lanes include:

  • Tolled lanes: users pay fees for using these lanes. This type of express lanes can operate on a fixed monthly or annual basis. In some countries, users’ bank accounts are debited according to their use of the lane. Paid express lanes may have visual license plate recognition systems, but it is also common to use small electronic devices that are located inside the vehicles and communicate with the express tolls. Depending on their application (e.g., in urban centers), express toll lanes have been criticized as a classist measure, allowing better mobility for those with greater purchasing power.
  • High occupancy: also known as HOV lanes, or high occupancy vehicles, this type of lane is intended to reduce the number of vehicles on the road by encouraging carpooling. Only vehicles with a minimum number of occupants may circulate in high occupancy lanes. Generally, these lanes do not have devices to prevent access, but misuse is penalized. Visual systems are often used to verify the correct use of the lane.
  • Exclusive: these are lanes that only allow the circulation of certain types of vehicles, such as buses, cabs and institutional vehicles. Like the previous two, they can be either urban or inter-urban. In the case of buses, the aim is to guarantee users a traffic-free journey in order to encourage the use of public transport as opposed to using private vehicles.
  • Electric-only lanes: With the efforts to transform cities into smart cities, electric vehicles are growing more prevalent on the road. To reward the use of renewable energies, some cities have implemented express lanes exclusively for electric vehicles. Exclusive lanes are often designated for different types of vehicles; in other words, there is no exclusive lane for buses, one for cabs and one for electric vehicles, but all these vehicles circulate in the same express lane.
  • Bicycle lanes: bicycle lanes could be considered a type of express lane if we understand that users who choose vehicles such as bicycles or scooters avoid using other types of vehicles that take up more space on public roads and produce emissions. Bicycle lanes can be stand-alone systems, developed in parallel to the street and highway system, or they can be integrated into them. Some cities integrate bicycle circulation within exclusive bicycle lanes, however, it is recommended that there be some type of physical barrier between the bicycle lanes and the traffic lanes for motor vehicles. 

On roads and highways, some express lanes change direction according to traffic needs. such as if during a holiday period there is heavy traffic from north to south, more express lanes will be provided in that direction, but the direction of these lanes will be reversed for return trips.

How did express lanes emerge?

Express lanes were introduced in the mid-20th century to alleviate traffic congestion caused by the exponential increase in the number of vehicles on the road, which often had not been planned for such high traffic volumes.

Although there were European antecedents that can be considered precursors of the express lane, it is considered that the first application of modern express lanes, similar to those we know today, was made in 1960 in Los Angeles, United States. It was a toll lane, known as the preferential lane. High occupancy lanes were introduced in 1970.

While their first objective was to alleviate traffic, today’s express lanes are primarily aimed at achieving more sustainable road traffic.

In which express lane projects has Cintra participated?

Through its subsidiary Cintra, Ferrovial has participated in numerous road projects in different ways. Some of those that feature the incorporation of express lanes include:

  • LBJ: Located on the Lyndon B. Johnson highway in Texas, United States, the LBJ Express Lane brings together some of the country’s most innovative traffic management solutions. Ferrovial executed the project to restructure this road, which now includes a dynamic toll system.
  • I-77: Located in North Carolina, this motorway includes fast lanes for high occupancy vehicles (HOV). Along the route, drivers can combine the regular lanes with the express lanes or use only one of the two options, whichever is more convenient.
  • I-66: Located in Fairfax, Virginia, this highway has three regular lanes and two express lanes with open tolls, which can be used free of charge by high-occupancy vehicles (HOV).
  • NTE: The North Tarrant Express (NTE) project included fast, open toll lanes on this highway on the Dallas-Forth Worth axis in Texas, allowing for the relief of vehicular traffic with limited impact on nature.
  • 407 ETR: Located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This highway was the first in the world to have an entirely electronic open toll system along its entire length. Thanks to a registration number, the 198 toll booths located on this highway detect the vehicles that travel along it, calculate the rates for each route, and issue invoices that are sent directly to users.

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