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Research Projects (2009-10)

Identifying Number


Project Title

Pricing Strategies for Rural Freeways


University of Wyoming

Project Investigator

Stephen Boyles, Assistant Professor
University of Wyoming
Phone: (307) 766-6230
E-mail: sboyles@mail.utexas.edu

Description of Project Abstract

Currently, state transportation agencies face several new challenges due to the convergence of multiple events. Among these are difficulties in funding projects to construct or upgrade facilities (Transportation Research Board, 2006), increased maintenance expenditures on existing infrastructure (Federal Highway Administration, 2002), and a surge in freight traffic as trade continues to grow (Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2007). Roadway pricing (tolling) has been proposed as a tool to address these issues, in many different forms and with different objectives; however, most research on roadway pricing has been conducted in urban contexts, where congestion management is paramount.

Rural regions, on the other hand, operate in a substantially different environment which requires novel research methods. First, the primary societal benefits from rural pricing accrue from securing funding for maintenance and construction projects, and the benefits that these projects provide, rather than congestion reduction. Second, a substantial component of rural freeway traffic consists of long-distance freight or recreational trips, which have more freedom to switch routes away from tolled facilities. Third, this re-routing may shift trips entirely out of a state, due to its regional nature, which carries additional economic costs. This project will construct pricing models accounting for these factors, in order to aid rural states in generating and evaluating pricing policies that provide maximum benefits to their citizens.

Project Objectives

This project will result in the development of a suite of models which inform policymaking regarding rural roadway pricing, providing guidance to states regarding how it can best be implemented, or whether it is appropriate at all; and providing greater transparency and corresponding public and industry support for such policies. These models will integrate economic cost-benefit analysis, infrastructure models, route choice, and large-scale transportation network modeling, requiring methodological innovation and advances in the research frontiers in these areas.

Project Approach/Methods

As discussed above, optimally pricing rural facilities involves an entirely different perspective from that applied to urban facilities. In particular, an explicit link must be constructed between toll revenues and the benefits derived from construction and maintenance projects they enable. This will involve concepts of network design (e.g., Bell & Iida, 1997) and user costs associated with maintenance and facility reliability (e.g., Robelin, 2006). Furthermore, to study the effects of diversion, route choice behavior models and price elasticities must be derived or estimated, with an emphasis on trip types comprising the majority of rural traffic, such as long-haul freight and recreational trips. These will be integrated with the tolling benefit models and implemented on a multi-state network in order to capture the regional scope of such trips. Using these, the research team will generate both analytical results and practical conclusions based on simulation in one or more testbed locations.

MPC Critical Issues Addressed by the Research

  1. Rural Transportation Operations.
  2. Human Factors.
  3. Traffic Operations and Management.
  4. Economic Analysis of Investments and Impacts.

Contributions/Potential Applications of Research

The research team envisions two primary applications of the models developed in this project: development of pricing policies in rural areas for state transportation agencies, and evaluation of alternative pricing schemes (including no pricing at all). Additional benefits are increased transparency and scientific rigor to support the policymaking process, lending greater credibility to agencies choosing to implement pricing strategies. Ultimately, these pricing policies will serve society through improved facility maintenance and construction projects, increasing the effectiveness of the transportation infrastructure.

Technology Transfer Activities

Technology transfer will be accomplished through interaction with public agencies involved in roadway operations, such as state transportation agencies. Throughout the research process, the research team will maintain close communication with these agencies to guide the modeling process. Dissemination will also be achieved through submission of papers for peer review and publication in leading transportation journals, and presentation of results at national and international conferences such as the annual meetings of the Transportation Research Board and the Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences.

Time Duration

July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010

Total Project Cost


MPC Funds Requested


TRB Keywords

Road Pricing, Rural Transportation, Transportation Systems, Network Analysis, Route Choice, Freight Traffic


  • Bell, M. G. H. and Y. Iida. (1997) Transportation Network Analysis. Wiley: Hoboken, NJ.
  • Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (2007) A Decade of Growth in Domestic Freight Rail and Truck Ton-Miles Continue to Rise. Report SR-002, US Department of Transportation, Washington, DC.
  • Federal Highway Administration. (2002) Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges and Transit: Report to Congress. US Department of Transportation, Washington, DC.
  • Robelin, C.-A. (2006) Facility-Level and System-Level Stochastic Optimization of Bridge Maintenance and Repair Decisions Using History-Dependent Models. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.
  • Transportation Research Board. (2006) Critical Issues in Transportation. National Academies, Washington, DC.
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