Congestion charging may be extended across England under government plans to adopt a "sophisticated" version of the London system to cut road use.
Alternatives to the London model will be tested
Seven areas have been given £7m to develop schemes, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has announced.
They are Durham, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, Shrewsbury, Cambridgeshire and Bristol.
The scheme will be rolled out over the network over the next 10-15 years, according to the Times newspaper.
Mr Darling told the BBC unless something was done the UK faced "absolute" gridlock.
Speaking at the CBI conference on Monday, Mr Darling said: "Local and regional pilots are essential if we are to explore and understand the possibilities of road pricing at national level."
He also announced the government had invited the seven authorities, along with Transport for London and Cardiff, to join a liaison group examining road pricing.
Mr Darling said a national charging scheme would replace either fuel duty or vehicle excise duty but could result in an increase in the overall sum paid by motorists.
Since the introduction of the congestion charge in London in February 2003 there has been a 1.5% decrease in the number of miles travelled by cars in the capital.
But Mr Darling hopes more "sophisticated" systems will be tested under the new study - such as electronic tagging and satellite tracking - that would allow the amount charged to fluctuate, according to the level of traffic.
Some charges should be up and running by 2009, said Mr Darling
Not all areas involved in the study would bring in a charge, he added.
But the first scheme would be announced within 18 months with one or two areas bring in charges by 2009.
Mr Darling told the BBC new ways had to be explored to tackle local congestion.
"Unless we look at that, we will have huge problems - absolute gridlock - in 20 or 30 years' time," he said.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he acknowledged people wanted to see faster progress in improving transport infrastructure.
He said more was being spent on the roads, railways and other parts of the system.
The first stage will be a major feasibility study to develop a congestion management strategy expected to be published next year.
The government has allocated up to £200m a year from 2008 to help local authorities introduce charging systems.
John McGoldrick, of the National Alliance Against Tolls, said the money would be better spent on solutions to current traffic flow.
"Almost no one wants tolls," he said.