Not-so-HOT lanes

March 10, 2009 at 7:36 pm (Family Life, Politics)

I commute to DC daily, so I’m interested in anything that will have an impact on my commute.  Currently, I’m a SLUG, but occasionally take the VRE or bus.

Virginia has been talking about converting the existing HOV lanes, which only busses and cars with 3 or more passengers can use, to HOT lanes which would be open to anyone with enough cash to pay the toll.

Official information can be found at virginiahotlanes.com and www.vamegaprojects.com.

The entire process seems to have been done in a less than open and honest manner, to the point that the Prince William County board of Supervisors passed a resolution requesting that VDOT or the contractor appear before them.  It’s gotten so heated that the slug-lines forum was invaded by a troll that turned out to be Shirley Ybarra, a lobbyist and former VA Secretary of Transportation.

I have problems with anyone messing with my commute, so I wrote the following letter to my two state representatives about it.

To: Sen. Charles Colgan
district29@senate.virginia.gov

To: Del. Jeff Frederick
DelJFrederick@house.virginia.gov

I am writing to you as a commuter from Northern Virginia who is concerned about the impact that the proposed HOT lanes on Interstate 95 and 395 will have.

Any additional capacity on 395 section of HOV lanes would only cause more delays.  The bridges into the District and streets surrounding them are already at or above capacity.  Additional cars arriving at these choke points will not help things.

According to an article in the Free Lance Star (http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2009/022009/02102009/444886) the re-striping of the lanes near the pentagon would result in lanes that are extremely narrow, and dangerous for busses to travel in at speed.  This is already an area of congestion, and would only get worse with narrower lanes.

An article in TheNewspaper (http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/24/2458.asp) said that Transurban/Fluor are expecting a level of revenue, and if any other road improvements are made that adversely affect it, Virginia would have to reimburse them for it.  This clause makes a lot of sense for them, but not for Virginia.  It would have the undesired effect of increasing the cost of necessary road improvements or halting them entirely.  Any improvements that Virginia would make to the roads near the HOT lanes, especially improvements in traffic flow, would cause fewer drivers to pay for the HOT lanes.  This would trigger the payment for their decreased revenue, effectively punishing success.

An article in the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/19/AR2008071901651_pf.html) revealed that Virginia would have to pay Transurban/Fluor if the non-paying vehicles in the HOT lanes exceeded 25%.  Assuming that busses and carpools currently using the HOV lanes would remain, I have not seen any proposals for improvements that would increase the carrying capacity of the HOV/HOT lanes by 300%, which would be required to keep Virginia from paying.

Relinquishing control of the existing HOV lanes would also cause problems, because the State Police would no longer be allowed to open the lanes for all traffic in the event of an accident.  It would also extend the rush hours because the extra capacity would not become available at a set time.

I think that a much more sensible alternative would be to change the HOV-3 to HOV-4 requiring four passengers in each car, removing the exemption for hybrid vehicles, and building additional commuter parking spaces in Prince William County and south.  Every space in the main commuter lots in Prince William County is filled daily, with many people parking along the sides of roads or other unauthorized areas.  Every parking space built removes a car from the road.

The costs are quite troubling as well.  The total cost of the project is expected to be over $1.6 Billion.  Transubran/Fluor are only contributing $349 Million to it.  And for that, they get a guarantee that 75% of the traffic will be paying, the completely unregulated tolls are geared to maximize their profits, there is no fixed buyout price should Virginia decide to take posession of the roads again, and their monopoly will outlive children born before it starts.  Perhaps that is best explained by the illegal $177,000 donations that Transurban/Fluor has made to the Governor and legislators.

Other people have written about it as well:

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