The Reason Public Policy Institute blog, Out of Control (devoted to investigating opportunities for welfare-enhancing privatization of government functions), draws attention to an exciting private toll road in California, in "Are toll roads safer?". The toll road organization - "91 Express Lanes" has a web site, here: "91 Express Lanes"
In 1995, the 91 Express Lanes opened as the first privately financed toll road in the U.S. in 50 years - in the median of "California's Riverside Freeway (State Route 91) between the Orange/Riverside County line and the Costa Mesa Freeway (State Route 55)." See the "91 Express Lanes" website above for a photo - and a virtual drive along the road. I gather from the website that the road was an initiative of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA). In the early 1990s, Route 91 was congested and public funds were not available for the construction to relive that congestion. OCTA turned to private financing to develop the road - the exact mechanism is unclear from the site.
Construction to relive congestion is everyone's first idea. What's more interesting here is the use of tolls to control congestion, and the optimization of the toll system to deal with varying congestion conditions through the day and week.
There are no toll booths:
"91 Express Lanes customers pay tolls from pre-paid accounts, using a FasTrak transponder � a pocket-sized radio transmission device mounted to the inside of their vehicle's windshield. This breakthrough electronic toll collection technology eliminates the need to stop and pay tolls at traditional tollbooths, thus ensuring the free flow of traffic on the 91 Express Lanes."
If you want to use the road you can open an account on the web with a major credit card.
Tolls vary by day, by hour, and by east or westbound lane. You can see the toll schedules here: "91 Express Lanes Toll Schedules". The demand for the road fluctuates throughout the day and week, and so do tolls. As rush hour in the inbound lane begins, tolls gradually rise from $1.00 to a peak of $3.60 between 7 and 8 AM, and then gradually fall to $1.70 for the rest of the day. All the tolls apparently automatically billed.
The web page claims these benefits:
"Since the 91 Express Lanes carried its first vehicle on December 27, 1995, this world-class transportation facility has logged more than 46 million vehicle trips, saving customers over 22 million hours of commuting time. These time savings have produced measurable benefits including some $330 million in added economic productivity and quality-of-life benefits for commuters, their families and businesses."