Paying $1 Per Mile To Speed Past Traffic

<p>Time-sensitive commuters would benefit from proposed toll express lanes for D.C. area freeways, which would be built on congested carpool lanes by private companies. Carpools would still use the lanes free of charge.</p>
March 7, 2007, 11am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Drivers in High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes planned for Interstates 95 and 395 would pay as much as a dollar a mile in some spots along the 36-mile route during peak times, the highest rate for a commute in the country, officials from the companies building the new-style highway said. HOT lanes allow solo drivers to ‘buy into' HOV, or High Occupancy Vehicle lanes that allow buses and carpools to travel free.

"The project, being built by Fluor Virginia Inc. and Transurban (USA) Development Inc., is one of several that could turn the Washington area into one of the most heavily tolled regions in the country."

"The $882 million project on I-95/395 would convert the two existing carpool lanes. The companies would add a third lane and provide new ramps and bridges and increased transit service, including a dedicated bus ramp to the Pentagon." The project would also extend the lanes nine miles, and perhaps farther later.

On March 2, "VA Dept. of Transportation filed the Fluor-Transurban proposal with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' Transportation Planning Board. The plan calls for construction to begin next year and for the lanes to open for service in 2010. It includes $390 million in additional transit services and envisions six new park-and-ride facilities with a total of 3,000 spaces. The proposal would have to be approved by the COG planning board, made up of state and local officials from Virginia, Maryland and the District."

Planners estimate that the cost for a rush-hour ride on the HOT lanes probably could be: as much as $1.60 a mile in crowded segments. "They estimate that a 21-mile, rush-hour trip from the Pentagon to Prince William Parkway would cost as much as $22.28. A round-trip during peak hours could cost $41.46."

Robert W. Poole Jr., director of transportation studies for the Reason Foundation and an early proponent of HOT lanes, noted that the tolls "would definitely be the highest anyone has ever seen."

Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer said HOT lanes are needed on I-95/395. "If we do nothing, the HOV lanes, slugs, carpools and bus service in the I-95 corridor will cease to function," Homer said. "The HOV lanes today are congested two days a week and in short order, three, four or five days a week."

"The main, important purpose of toll pricing is to manage the traffic flow so they can deliver what they are promising to customers: a congestion-free ride", Poole added.

"Planners also see HOT lanes as a way to boost transit service by providing open roads for buses. Local officials have encouraged companies to build them because there is little public money available."

While alluring to planners, some politicians may feel otherwise.

"HOT lanes are a sham," said Corey A. Stewart (R), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, which voted two weeks ago to oppose the project. "You have a very congested area combined with an affluent workforce. People will pay literally anything to get out of the main lanes into the special lanes. The result is that only the very affluent will be in those lanes "

However, a spokeswoman for the project noted that "drivers will always have a choice. They can choose to use the HOT lanes or choose to use the regular lanes for free."

Thanks to James Wamsley via Sierra Club's ChapterTransportation Chairs Forum

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Published on Saturday, March 3, 2007 in The Washington Post
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