The best kept secret among transportation planners is that the best—and perhaps only—way to control highway congestion is to make people pay to use roads, especially during peak driving periods.

At one point, instituting road tolls seemed politcally beyond the pale, something that a populace long accustomed to freeways would never accept. But with congestion growing in every major urban area in the country, the idea of toll roads and toll lanes, using high-tech “phantom tollboth” technology that automatically deducts tolls from passing cars, seems to be catching on, not just with highway officials but with drivers.

The most compelling criticism of congestion pricing is that it charges people who have no alternative but to drive, a burden that can fall particularly hard on the poor. That’s the argument that AAA makes. But according to USA Today, the popularity of the lanes where they’ve been implemented is surprisingly high:

Seventy-one percent of drivers polled about California’s State Route 91 said tolls were fair. Support was highest among lower-income groups.

HOV lanes have already been coverted to HOT lanes in four states, and six new HOT lane projects are underway, including one on Highway 217 in Portland. This is definitely a development to watch, because it has the potential to spread quickly.