According the most recent Urban Mobility Report, congestion and gridlock cost Americans $115 billion in 2009. Major metro areas are facing the same dilemma: How to solve this growing burden on our nationwide transportation system and its users?

The challenge of financing traffic relief or even planning for it comes in an era of significantly reduced city, state and federal budgets. One emerging solution for states is the use of toll road options, such as converting high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to high-occupancy toll roads (HOT), through public-private partnerships. The concept is to secure private financing, without use of tax dollars, to build new roads or convert old ones to reduce congestion. The facts behind the HOT option are compelling:

1. Toll roads reduce pollution.

In the latest report, American motorists wasted an average of 28 gallons of fuel annually while stuck in traffic. Reducing traffic congestion and the extra auto emissions that go with it will improve local air quality.

2. Congestion can be alleviated through technological innovations ensuring free-flowing traffic.

Most toll roads today use technology that eliminates delays. Instead of slowing down to pay, drivers either pay with an electronic transponder connected to a prepaid account or by having their license plate recorded by a high-speed camera that provides digital data the operator uses for calculating monthly bills.

3. Toll roads save commuters' time and money -- on toll roads and off.

Annually, drivers across the nation waste an average of 36 hours in traffic, according to the mobility report, or about one week of vacation time per motorist. With the toll road option, drivers reduce traffic on the interstate highways and major community thoroughfares.

4. Decreased congestion equals increased fuel economy.

With gas at more than $4 a gallon, fuel economy has never been more critical to drivers. In addition to reducing pollution, toll roads allow vehicles to move at more fuel-efficient speeds. Studies show that the optimal speeds for efficient fuel consumption are 45 to 60 miles per hour, speeds rarely reached in stop-and-go commuting traffic.

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Currently, more than a dozen states are considering converting HOV lanes to HOT roads, and another 25 are planning or already building new toll roads in public-private partnerships. More government agencies need to seriously consider the promise of these kinds of partnerships to ensure that our road transportation systems grow to meet future needs rather than subjecting drivers to stressful, expensive and unnecessary congestion everywhere.

GARY HAUSDORFER

The writer is chief executive officer of Cofiroute USA, a toll road operator based in Irvine, Calif. Cofiroute operates the MnPASS lanes in the Twin Cities.