The West Midlands is favourite to become the first conurbation outside London to introduce road pricing after being handed a major financial inducement from the Government.
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has given the region the lion's share of a #7 million national "pump priming" fund for a six-month study into setting up a pay-as-you-drive system.
Piloting road pricing for the Department for Transport carries the promise of millions, potentially billions, of new investment in public transport schemes for the successful region.
Unusually, the DfT's #2.6 million grant to the West Midlands is more than twice the amount the seven district authorities - acting together in one conurbation-wide scheme - bid for two months ago.
It is also more than double the grant to Greater Manchester, the West Midlands' nearest rival to pilot road pricing prior to a national roll-out.
Last night, the DfT said it was granting the West Midlands #1.2 million for the initial feasibility study but also, unsolicited, earmarking money for two-thirds of the next phase.
A source in the West Midlands bid team told The Birmingham Post this extra funding commitment had been a "pleasant surprise" and was being viewed as an endorsement of the conurbation's plans and an incentive to progress with road pricing.
Speaking at the CBI conference in London yesterday, Mr Darling announced funding for a total of seven areas - including Shropshire - to look at innovative ways of tackling congestion.
"I'm convinced that without more radical measures, including more effective demand management, and actively managing traffic flows, road congestion will get worse," he said.
"That is why I've been very clear about the need to look at road pricing."
Councillor Roger Lawrence, transport lead for the West Midlands Metropolitan Authorities, said the decision was a "vital next step in getting to grips with the problem of traffic congestion".
"We are now ready to begin a major feasibility study that will look in detail at congestion levels and causes in the West Midlands. The study will also investigate the costs and benefits of potential solutions to congestion, including flexible road pricing."
West Midlands business leaders have been broadly supportive of moves towards road pricing but stressed the importance of any final scheme making the region more competitive.
Jerry Blackett, chairman of the West Midland Business Transport Group, said: " Ridding ourselves of the congestion that is crippling the region would transform our appeal as a region where companies can do business.
"However, road pricing alone will not solve our problems. It is vital that the Government also commits to building a 30-year plan for transport so that our road and rail investment priorities are identified and invested in."
Last night CBI director general Sir Digby Jones welcomed the award.
"I'm delighted that the West Midlands is at the top of the list when it comes to the funding allocated," said Sir Digby.
"An efficient road system for the region can only be of great benefit both locally and for the entire country. I lay down the challenge to local authorities - get the money spent.
"I say to them 'what's it to be, a yellow-backed toad - or prosperity for the region?'"