High Occupancy Traffic
HOT News Articles and Links to Resources:
For Dealing With Traffic
Va., Md. Planners Look Beyond HOV
By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2005; Page B01
to Washington Post article]
Al Waitkus is going 5 mph. It's been like this for an
hour, and he figures he's got at least another hour before he gets home.
This, he doesn't like.
To his left, he sees cars in the high-occupancy-vehicle
lanes happily speeding along, many of them cheaters.
This, he really doesn't like.
"I'm looking at HOV right now, and two out of every
five [vehicles] have only one person," he said on a cell phone near
Woodbridge. "I get envious watching them move that fast. They don't
need an HOV. [Getting rid of it] would relieve a lot of this
Whether the Washington region needs HOV lanes is as
pertinent a question among transportation planners as among such
frustrated commuters as Waitkus. Chronic cheating and growing congestion
have led officials to explore new concepts that they said are more likely
to ease tie-ups.
In Virginia, where HOV lanes were created in 1969 to
provide a faster ride for those willing to travel with others, proposals
exist to convert HOV lanes on Interstates 95 and 395 into high-occupancy
toll lanes. Solo drivers could pay a fee to use them. State officials also
are considering adding HOT lanes to the Capital Beltway. The only HOV
lanes planned are part of a 3.8-mile widening of I-66 near Manassas.
Planners in Maryland are no longer thinking HOV at all
and instead are pursuing express toll lanes on several major highways. The
fees that would fund the construction of the lanes would be paid by all
drivers and would rise during times when traffic gets heavier.
"We believe there's actually more congestion
management potential from express toll lanes than HOV lanes," said
Neil J. Pedersen, chief of the Maryland State Highway Administration.
"Our thinking has evolved to that, and it's a combination of looking
at what can most effectively manage congestion together with a very
practical funding issue."
Despite the existence of HOV lanes on several highways
and a sustained effort to encourage carpooling, only 7 percent of the
region's residents drive to work with others, slightly fewer than in the
nation as a whole, according to local and national polls by The Washington
Post released this month.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents said creating carpool
lanes was a very effective way to ease congestion, trailing such fixes as
building new roads, public transportation and removing disabled vehicles.
Nearly 60 percent favored HOT lanes, and the region split on adjustable
toll roads, suggesting that the region's residents are open to the ideas.
To measure attitudes toward commuting, The Post
interviewed 1,003 randomly selected adults in the Washington area from
Jan. 27 to 31. At the same time, The Post joined with ABC News and Time
magazine to conduct a nationwide survey of 1,204 adults that asked many of
the same questions.
Transportation officials said the problem with
carpooling is that some HOV lanes are filled with too many vehicles, while
others have too few travelers to justify the lanes. Cheaters also anger
law-abiders and stall traffic. Regardless, state officials said they
couldn't afford new HOV lanes even if they wanted them.
They said charging drivers tolls would raise money to
finance the construction, allow for better enforcement and guarantee a
Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition
for Smarter Growth, said carpooling "is declining because local
governments and businesses have scattered the jobs."
Transportation experts said the lanes tend to work well
when there is a commitment to them, as on I-95/395. Those highways have
two separated lanes and several roadside parking lots where commuters form
On a typical morning in 2004, 35,250 people in 9,960
vehicles used the HOV-3 lanes on I-395 that require three occupants,
Virginia officials said. Of those, they estimated that 22 percent were
violators. The regular lanes carried far fewer people in almost twice as
many vehicles -- 22,380 commuters in 19,800 vehicles.
Yvonne Clear is one such carpooler, leaving
Fredericksburg each morning at 6 with two others so they can take the HOV
lanes. Driving alone, she said, would be "suicidal."
Still, Clear said, the time savings aren't what they
used to be. "It gets a little congested when you get toward Dale
City, Woodbridge, Springfield, and it's bad from there to the
Pentagon," she said.
Regional officials said HOV lanes are far less effective
in places where they're a single lane. On those, cheaters run rampant and
are hard to catch because they can slip in and out of the lane quickly.
Time savings are uncertain and the incentive to use them diminishes.
The HOV-2 lane on I-270, for instance, carried about
1,700 people between 8 and 9 a.m. in spring 2004, Maryland officials said.
But the violation rate was as high as 48 percent.
Transportation officials also said HOV-2 doesn't take
cars off the road so much as provide a perk to people who would be pairing
"You don't get new carpools," said Ronald F.
Kirby, transportation planning director for the Metropolitan Washington
Council of Governments. "It's not that hard to get two people in a
Instead of stretching the HOV lane north on I-270,
Maryland officials are exploring plans to use that space to build express
toll lanes. Pedersen also said officials are exploring ways to convert
existing HOV lanes into toll lanes.
Mari Sanchez said she'd like to see more HOV lanes, not
fewer. She usually drives by herself to work but not on days when she has
to travel from Gaithersburg to the District with co-workers.
"We all try to just carpool and come back,"
said Sanchez, who said more HOV lanes would ease backups on them. As it
is, she's not so sure that carpooling saves time.
"I'm starting to think that it could just be an
illusion," she said. "I think it saves me time, but I really
actually don't know."
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
Proposals Threaten Slugging, HOV Lanes
The Washington Post, Prince
William Section, Letters to the Editor
February 20, 2005.
to Washington Post article]
Sometimes desperation leads to decisions that make matters
worse. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), desperate to
relieve congestion in Northern Virginia but starved of the funding to do
so, is considering proposals to convert Interstate 95/395 HOV lanes into
High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. Those proposals, although well
intentioned, would damage one of our only forms of mass transit and turn
our commuting woes into a commuting nightmare.
HOV lanes have succeeded in encouraging thousands of
commuters to carpool or take the bus. Carpooling in Northern Virginia
means slugging. Slugging is the practice of three strangers leaving two
cars behind to ride together on the HOV lanes.
Slugging has become one of best forms of mass transit in
the Washington area, and one developed by residents -- not the government.
In fact, I slug. Although the HOV lanes can also get crowded, strict
enforcement and phasing out the low emission/alternative fuel vehicles
next year will keep HOV moving in the right direction.
Now there are two competing proposals from Fluor
Virginia Inc. and Clark Construction Group to convert the HOV lanes into
HOT lanes. The HOT lanes would continue to allow carpoolers to ride in HOV
and single-rider vehicles could use the lanes if they paid a toll. In
January, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved both proposals to
move to the next stage of review. After going through state and federal
environmental review, including public debate, the VDOT commissioner could
start negotiating the project in early 2006.
Many arguments can be made against HOT lanes, including
the "Lexus lanes" argument. My focus is on a single question,
"Will this improve our commute?" The answer is no. Here is why.
Recent VDOT analysis bears out what commuters already
know: HOV lanes are at capacity now. Adding single-rider toll payers to
the lanes would make the situation worse. In this highly affluent
community, many who carpool would choose to pay the toll to ride alone
rather than ride with a stranger.
To offset the increased volume resulting from toll
payers, the proposals would widen the HOT lanes to three lanes between
Dumfries and the 14th Street bridge. But adding a third lane would not
offset the additional volume when the lanes narrow again to two lanes at
the 14th Street bridge. The net result: more volume, same bottleneck.
Most toll revenue would not be used in Northern
Virginia. Common sense would dictate that revenue generated from the tolls
would be used to address Northern Virginia's traffic woes. Instead, both
proposals would use most of the revenue to extend the HOT lanes past
That is of almost no benefit to Prince William and
Fairfax counties residents, who would be paying most of the tolls.
Although the proposal would add an additional lane to HOT, this could be
done at relatively little cost now, because the right-of-way for this lane
already exists. Doing so would severely reduce the shoulder widths, posing
a significant safety concern. Once we go HOT, we couldn't go back.
If HOT lanes fail, VDOT would be unable to simply back
out of its contractual obligations and revert back to HOV. Fluor and Clark
tell us not to worry, however, because there are purportedly successful
HOT projects in Texas and California. But can we afford to gamble with one
of the most successful mass transit solutions in Northern Virginia based
on questionable comparisons to very few other examples where this has been
All this will be discussed at a HOT lane town hall
meeting I will be co-hosting with the Committee to Save HOV at 7 p.m.
March 14 at the Woodbridge Senior High School auditorium.
For more information, please contact me at 703-792-4643
Corey A. Stewart
Occoquan District Supervisor
County closer to
By LILLIAN KAFKA
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Elected officials in Prince William County are looking
more closely at plans for pay-to-cruise interstate lanes
and they have some commuter-friendly suggestions of their
High-Occupancy Toll lanes, or HOT lanes, should be
seriously considered, said members of the Board of County
Supervisors on Tuesday after they heard a presentation by
Gary Groat, director of project development for Fluor
Fluor Virginia, an Arlington-based transportation
company, has submitted a public-private partnership bid to
build 56 miles of HOT lanes from 14th Street in
Washington, D.C., to the Massaponax interchange in
"We really have to examine these proposals because
there is no federal or state funding for it," said
Supervisor Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large.
"This may be our only hope for road and transit
improvements in this corridor."
Fluor's $1 billion proposal would add a third lane to
the reversible High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes that exist
between the north- and south-bound lanes of Interstate 95.
Instead of requiring two passengers, the new lanes
would require three or more passengers per vehicle to
avoid a toll charge.
Groat said that in California, where HOT lane
popularity is growing, more people are car-pooling to use
the HOT lanes without having to pay.
Fluor's design also calls for an additional 24 exit and
entrance ramps with some for buses only.
The design, Groat said, encourages bus transit systems.
The Bus Rapid Transit system that is being encouraged
with the plan would access existing and undeserved transit
Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan, R-Dumfries, suggested
that more park and ride lots be built in Prince William to
take advantage of the HOT lanes.
"It looks like there is a light at the end of the
tunnel," Caddigan said about the proposal.
VDOT doesn't have plans to extend the existing HOV
lanes for years.
Groat said that if environmental impact studies are
done within 18 months, construction could begin by 2006.
But the Commonwealth Transportation Board has to first
decide if it wants HOT lanes, then who should build them.
Fluor Virginia has made one of two proposals submitted
to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Clark/SCC/KPRI made the other proposal and is scheduled
to present it to Prince William officials later this year.
The Board will send a letter to the Commonwealth
Transportation Board to encourage it to choose HOT lanes
and make it speedy.
The Bus Rapid Transit could even be used on U.S. 1,
Instead of calling HOT lanes "Lexus Lanes" as
critics sometimes refer to them, Groat suggested a new
They're not ways for only the wealthy to bypass traffic
jams on the general lanes, he said.
"They should call them "Lumina Lanes,"
he said, since studies have shown that in California
people from all social and economic strata use the HOT
Single-passenger cars could pay up to $7 dollars or
more to drive on them.
Tolls are calculated per mile and the average toll
could be about 15 cents per mile, Groat said.
The tolls could change every six minutes and go up or
down depending on congestion. If lanes are relatively
clear, the charge is low. If they get congested, the rate
increases, just like peak phone rates or electricity use
Highway managers would be able to keep an eye on the
lanes by monitoring about 150 cameras watching the entire
stretch of road from Spotsylvania to the District.
Only cars with Smart Tag or EZPass stickers could use
the toll lanes because cash won't be accepted. High
occupancy vehicles would also use a sticker to indicate
that they shouldn't be charged.
Also in the works is a Fluor proposal for a $693
million expansion of the Beltway HOV lanes between the
Springfield Interchange and the American Legion Bridge.
Va. Willing to Study Toll Lanes' Potential
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 16, 2003; Page B01
Northern Virginia motorists have moved a step closer to being able to buy
their way out of traffic.
With a regional endorsement yesterday, Virginia is seeking $1 million in
federal money to study whether to allow lone drivers to pay a toll to use
free-moving carpool lanes. The lanes would be studied for highways such as
Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway, parts of Interstate 95 and the
Dulles Toll Road.
Hurried motorists would have a way to move faster, state officials said,
and the money collected could go toward a longer-term traffic solution,
such as increasing bus and rail service or improving roads.
"This is a completely new opportunity to manage our highways to give
people more choices and get more capacity out of the existing
system," said Tom Farley, the Northern Virginia administrator for the
Virginia Department of Transportation.
The idea of high-occupancy toll, or "HOT," lanes has surfaced in
the Washington region before, but it has never gotten a thorough look.
This would be the first time Northern Virginia has studied it. Maryland
planned to consider the idea for Route 50's new carpool lanes, but Gov.
Parris N. Glendening (D) killed it in 2001, saying HOT lanes were unfair
to lower-income drivers. Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Gov. Robert L.
Ehrlich Jr. (R), said HOT lanes did not surface as a major transportation
issue during the campaign. He said HOT lanes are not "an immediate
priority on the governor's transportation agenda" but that Ehrlich
might be open to proposals.
The region's Transportation Planning Board endorsed Virginia's application
for the federal money yesterday. The vote was purely symbolic, but the
fact that public officials even discussed the possibility of charging
people for traffic relief represents a stark shift from the tepid
political support HOT lanes have had locally.
Transportation officials across the country are eyeing HOT lanes as a
potential solution to traffic and money problems.
Critics say the pay-to-move tolls amount to a tax that creates two tiers
of roads, allowing the haves to zoom past the have-nots. Critics have
dubbed them "Lexus lanes."
But supporters say the region's traffic woes and dismal financial outlook
have gotten so bad that the "Lexus lane" argument is beginning
to lose ground. Even the influential AAA, which loudly criticized the idea
just 18 months ago, now supports examining HOT lanes as a way to generate
badly needed money. It is one of the few potential traffic solutions on
which the AAA, highway officials and environmentalists agree.
"I haven't been a fan of HOT lanes, but the fact is we have no money
to build roads or mass transit in our region," said Lon Anderson,
spokesman for mid-Atlantic AAA. "If we're going to fix our
transportation system, it looks like the money is going to have to come
Northern Virginia officials took great pains yesterday to tout the lanes
as a way to ease traffic, reduce air pollution and use every inch of spare
pavement in an otherwise jam-packed road system.
"This won't take care of any short-term budget situation,"
Farley said. "We're not using this to raise money."
Transportation officials say studies of HOT lanes in southern California
and Texas show that they are more "Lumina lanes" than Lexus
lanes. Drivers of every income level have been willing to pay a few more
dollars when in a hurry, whether they are trying to catch a plane or avoid
a late pickup fee at their child's day-care center.
Motorists who have an electronic transponder on their vehicles, similar to
Virginia's Smart Tag, can enter the carpool lane. A variable message sign
tells them the going rate at that time. Tolls can change every five
minutes or so, rising as the lanes become more crowded. Motorists are
charged the toll in effect when they entered the HOT lane.
If the carpool lane starts getting too crowded, highway officials raise
the toll, hoping to improve traffic flow. The toll rates in California
vary from about 75 cents to about $4 during the morning and evening rush.
The tolls are automatically deducted from the transponders. Charging more
during peak times encourages people to drive at off-peak times, traffic
State officials say they would like to study opening I-66 inside the
Capital Beltway to lone motorists willing to pay. That 11-mile segment is
now restricted to carpooling during peak times, jamming side roads and
creating one of the region's worst bottlenecks where single drivers are
forced to divert from I-66 onto the Beltway. Carpoolers could continue to
use the high-occupancy vehicles (HOV) lanes for free.
They say they also want to study HOT lanes on I-395 and on a widened
Beltway. If funded, the study would take 18 months, Farley said.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
lanes plan on drawing boards
News & Messenger
Monday, September 29, 2003
A team of three companies is proposing to put HOT lanes on Interstate 95
all the way down to Fredericksburg.
The proposal would convert I-95's existing high-occupancy vehicle lanes,
or HOV lanes, into high-occupancy toll lanes, or HOT lanes, wherein
high-occupancy vehicles could still travel for free but solo drivers would
pay to use for a price depending on congestion -- thereby supplying a
revenue source for the new road.
The proposal was submitted by Clark Construction Group, Shirley
Contracting Co. and Koch Performance Roads Inc., according to a summary
sent to area elected officials.
Company officials could not be reached late Monday.
The plan was submitted to the Virginia Department of Transportation. A
VDOT spokeswoman did not return phone calls Monday night.
The proposal was submitted under Virginia's Public-Private Transportation
Act. It would in phases:
? add a third high-occupancy lane,
? link I-95 HOT lanes into HOT lanes of the Beltway that are proposed to
be built by the Flour Daniel Co.
? extend the HOT lanes south to Fredericksburg
Vehicles with three or more passengers could still use the lanes for free
during rush hour, but solo drivers will pay variable fees based on time of
day and congestion.
Capacity exists on the HOV lanes during peak rush hour times and there is
no HOV connection to the Beltway from I-95, "thus reducing its
effectiveness as a congestion relief method. As a result, Virginia is not
realizing the full value of its investment in its HOV facilities because
they carry far fewer vehicles than they could potentially handle."
Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton,
R-at-large, received a summary of the Clark-Shirley-Koch proposal Monday.
He said it should be looked at seriously.
"In an era of declining revenue streams, this may be the only
available option to use," Connaughton said. "One of the real
positives is that it would remove that bottleneck, the backup practically
every day southbound at Dumfries."
The HOV link to Interstate 495 was cut out of the Springfield Interchange
project last year to control that project's ballooning costs toward $800
The proposal goes against a plan county Democrats released a month ago
that calls for companies to add a third lane to existing HOV lanes, a lane
that would be dedicated to a bus-rapid transit system. The plan calls for
running the rapid transit buses from the Horner Road commuter lot in
Woodbridge north into Springfield and into the District of Columbia.
"HOT lanes can be considered, but should not be on existing lanes
that taxpayers have already paid for once," the Democrats' press
"Why we'd want to tax the people twice to use HOV lanes when they've
already been built is beyond me," said David Brickley, Democratic
candidate in the 52nd House District.
The cost and time for a third lane to Springfield would be very minimal
because the HOV lanes south of the Beltway are already hardened for a
third lane, he said.
Interstate 495 does not have any high-occupancy lanes, so there has been
very little opposition to its HOT lane proposal. Tolls for the new Beltway
lanes would range from $1 to $4.18, according to preliminary estimates in
a VDOT summary.
plan for HOT lanes
By CHRIS NEWMAN
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
There is now competition to add HOT lanes to Interstate 95.
The Fluor Virginia Corp. submitted a $1 billion proposal on Monday that
would convert the highway's HOV lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes and
extend them south past Fredericksburg and add transit stations for direct
The proposal came in before today's deadline to submit competing proposals
to an initial $500 million 36-mile plan proposed by a team of three
Clark Construction Group, Shirley Contracting Co. and Koch Performance
Roads Inc. submitted last September a HOT lane plan that goes from the
Beltway to U.S. 17 in Stafford.
"Our initial reaction was it doesn't solve the entire transportation
problem," said Gary Groat, Fluor director of project development. The
Clark-Shirley-Koch plan doesn't go inside the Beltway to solve congestion
there and dumps traffic into regular lanes at U.S. 17, where traffic
already slows down because it is a major truck bypass route, he said.
"If you're going to build something on I-95, you should solve the
entire problem, not just a portion of it."
Vehicles with three people could still travel for free in the HOT lanes.
Customers must use electronic toll transmitters so that traffic does not
queue up to enter or exit the lanes.
To keep traffic moving, prices go up depending on congestion.
The Fluor plan would:
? convert the two HOV lanes and shoulders on I-95/I-395 to three HOT lanes
from Dumfries to Washington, D.C., by at the earliest 2007. A flyover ramp
would be added in Dumfries so that HOT lane traffic would more effectively
merge with regular traffic.
? By 2010 at the earliest a two-lane 28-mile extension to Massaponax would
? Then 16 bus stations, additional ramps and five parking lots would be
built to accommodate a bus rapid transit system, which uses large
ground-level entry buses.
A total of 32 slip ramps, flyovers and direct linkage ramps are part of
Fluor's conceptual proposal.
Groat said the average toll could be 15 cents a mile, or $8.40 to travel
the entire 56 miles. The toll would be much higher during rush hour. The
toll rates for any HOT lane project would be negotiated with the Virginia
Department of Transportation at a later phase in planning.
The Virginia Department of Transportation will evaluate both proposals and
determine which one or both will move onto a next phase of detailed
"Competition between private firms is good for the Commonwealth, and
challenges us all to be more innovative, more cost-effective, and more
time-sensitive," said Rick Volk, vice president of Koch Performance
Roads, in an initial response to the competing proposal.
Fluor's counterproposal was expected because it has an $800 million
proposal to add HOT lanes to the Beltway. After public hearings, VDOT
could approve it this year.
The Beltway plan - to add two HOT lanes and rebuild two to five
interchanges and add five sets of slip ramps - is subject to change.
A meeting for state and local officials to markup the plan is April 1 in
Both I-95 HOT lane plans add a direct ramp between the proposed I-95 HOT
lanes to Fluor's proposed Beltway HOT lanes.
Pierce Homer, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Transportation, is leading the
advisory panels for all the HOT lane concepts. He said state review of the
Beltway proposal has been delayed because resources have had to be devoted
to reviewing I-81 tolled improvement projects.
Last month Homer's panel picked a $7.5 billion plan by STAR Solutions to
widen and improve truck and car traffic safety on I-81 over a less
comprehensive $1.8 billion Fluor proposal.
The STAR Solutions plan is contingent on $800 million in federal dollars
emerging from Congress and environmental studies. It would widen the
highway to eight lanes, separate truck and car traffic and add tolls.
Environmental impact studies are required on all the projects.
A study is nearly complete for a Beltway widening.
Groat said less environmental study is needed for the adding of HOT lanes
to I-95 because it will be done in existing state right-of-way, but to add
transit stations would require more study.
2nd Look At Snubbed HOT Lanes
Traffic-Fighting Idea Gains Favor in Region
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 29, 2003; Page B01
Transportation experts Robert W. Poole and C. Kenneth Orski have spent the
past decade touting a plan to ease traffic in crowded urban areas such as
Washington: Charge lone motorists a toll for the chance to use leftover
space in free-flowing carpool lanes.
While the idea took hold in some traffic-clogged areas of California and
Texas, it stalled in the Washington region. The politically powerful AAA
dubbed such toll lanes "Lexus lanes," favoring more affluent
motorists. Former Maryland governor Parris N. Glendening (D) canceled the
region's only study of such lanes in 2001 after calling them economically
unfair. Virginia transportation officials showed little interest.
But in the past six months, the idea of high-occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes
has gained traction faster than almost any other traffic
congestion-fighting measure. The details of how to create them -- and how
to spend the toll money -- still stir debate. However, with money tight
and traffic growing worse, HOT lanes are now widely viewed as one of the
most feasible, affordable ways to better manage, if not ease, traffic
congestion in the short term while generating money for long-term relief.
"We are out of money in our transportation trust funds throughout our
region," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for the Mid-Atlantic AAA and
one of the most vocal critics of HOT lanes just a year ago. "There's
no money to make the wholesale changes many would like to see. HOT lanes
offer that opportunity."
Maryland has renewed its studies of HOT lanes on six highways, including
its portion of the Capital Beltway, Interstate 270 in Montgomery County
and Route 50 in Prince George's County. The Virginia Department of
Transportation is considering the idea as a way to pay for widening the
Beltway through Northern Virginia in addition to adding and extending
carpool lanes on I-95 between Springfield and Fredericksburg. At a
regional conference on HOT lanes in June, politicians and traffic planners
were practically giddy about what many called their only financial hope of
making major road or transit improvements.
Building new HOT lanes would take at least five years -- as long as it
would take to build any new road. However, charging tolls to use excess
capacity in existing carpool lanes, such as on I-270, Route 50 and I-66,
could offer relief in as little as a year, Orski said.
"If there's a will to do so," said Orski, a transportation
consultant who lives in Potomac, "it could be done in the next six
Here's how HOT lanes work: The carpool lanes remain free to carpools, van
pools and buses, while other motorists pay a toll. The tolls are collected
via electronic transponders, akin to Maryland's E-Z Pass and Virginia's
Smart Tag, to prevent tollbooths from slowing or stopping traffic. To make
sure the lanes don't fill up with cheaters, effective HOT lanes have room
built in for police to ensure that vehicles have transponders.
What makes HOT lanes most effective: The toll's price changes throughout
the day to keep traffic moving, even during rush hours. When the lanes
start to bog down, the price goes up to encourage motorists to leave the
lanes or discourage them from entering. As road space frees up, the price
drops. The fluctuating prices not only keep traffic moving, advocates say,
but also stretch the highway's capacity by encouraging drivers to use it
outside peak times.
HOT-lane advocates also tout the long-term potential for such lanes to
improve transit. If a network of HOT lanes could be developed long term to
connect free-flowing toll lanes on several major highways, it could form a
seamless web for express bus service.
HOT lanes won't stem the ever-rising tide of traffic fueled by the
Washington region's population and job growth. But charging for the
region's road space could at least ensure that the precious capacity that
is available is used most efficiently. It also would give people the
option of paying a few dollars for something they can't otherwise get: a
reliably smooth trip when they have to be on time.
"I think there's a convergence of thinking that congestion will
always be a part of Northern Virginia, so at least it has to be better
managed," said Pierce R. Homer, deputy transportation secretary in
Virginia and chairman of a panel considering HOT lanes as a way to pay for
widening the Beltway. "Part of managing congestion is providing
choices, and that's something that HOT lanes do."
An Old Idea
The idea of "road pricing," or charging motorists for using
limited road space, has been around since the 1960s, said Poole, founder
of the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles think tank that applies
market-based approaches to reforming government. However, Poole said, it
was considered political suicide to begin charging motorists for something
they were used to getting for free.
In 1988, Poole wrote an academic paper suggesting that motorists be
charged for the chance to use newly built "premium-priced" lanes
based on the idea that people were accustomed to paying for premium
service at peak times. New road capacity could be priced the same way that
phone companies charged customers more for making long-distance calls
during peak daytime hours than for calls made on nights and weekends.
Instead of having to build a massive infrastructure just to meet peak
demand, phone companies used pricing to even out the demand and shift it
to better match the supply.