1997 Finalist
State of California
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

In the 1980s, rising environmental movements and funding constraints strained the ability of California's government to construct highways and other transportation projects. Public sources of revenue such as gas and transportation sales taxes had become insufficient for the development of highways. New aspects of environmental consideration further complicated the process of transportation projects.

Assembly Bill 680 (AB 680) is the California Department of Transportation's attempt to demonstrate the feasibility of developing privately funded transportation projects without the use of federal or state funding. This legislation challenged the private sector to propose transportation projects anywhere in the state of California with the proviso that the private sector would be required to fund all aspects of the project including environmental, design, right-of-way, construction, operation, maintenance, and law enforcement.

The State Route 91 Express Lanes in Orange County is an important development backed by AB 680. SR 91 is a 126 million-dollar project. It is considered the world's first test of fully automated toll collection coupled with "congestion pricing." Congestion pricing manages demand and service levels by adjusting tolls rates according to traffic flow. As traffic flow increases, toll rates on SR 91 increase accordingly, resulting in a reduction of traffic congestion. The route uses high-speed tolling technology that allows motorists to pay their tolls electronically, at highway speeds. Additionally, cars with more than three occupants travel without charge.

The California Department of Transportation cites SR 91 as AD 680's most notable achievement to date. Aside from initial project development costs, it has paid $134,000 in yearly maintenance and $536,849 for the services of California Highway Patrolmen. It is estimated that over the course of the thirty-five year operating period of the franchise, a total of 120 million dollars in private funds will be spent on maintenance and law enforcement services. During SR 91's first few moths of operation in 1996, it reduced traffic to levels not seen since 1980. Some toll customers have cited commute time reductions of up to an hour. AB 680, with little state involvement, has successfully harnessed private sector forces to better serve the citizens of California, both in service delivery and resource reduction.