Hot Lanes

Transportation Nation

D.C. Beltway Opens HOT Lanes to Breeze Past Traffic for a Price, but Strapped Gov't Won't Get Revenue

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Heralded as the Beltway’s largest expansion that will provide drivers in Northern Virginia congestion relief for a price, the 495 Express Lanes ceremoniously opened Tuesday morning as Governor Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) cut the ribbon on the $2 billion project.

“So many said that expanding the Beltway was just not a possible task given the multiple challenges. It would consume VDOT’s entire budget, some would say at the time. It would take an immense amount of property. And yet the private sector came up with this concept of a high occupancy toll lane,” the governor said at a ceremony in Tysons Corner.

The high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes will actually open to traffic November 17. Two new lanes will run in each direction for fourteen miles between the Dulles Toll Road and I-95 interchange in Fairfax County, Virginia.

If all goes according to plan, there will never be traffic slower than 45 miles per hour in the HOT lanes.

HOV-3 vehicles and buses may use the 495 Express Lanes for free. All other motorists must pay electronic tolls through EZ Pass that will be dynamically priced: the higher the traffic volume on the Express Lanes, the higher the toll. The highway’s operators are required to keep traffic moving at least 45 miles per hour.

The project was made possible through a public-private partnership with Fluor-Transurban, an engineer and construction conglomerate. Virginia gets a $2 billion dollar road; Transurban receives the toll revenues for 75 years as per its contract with the state. Virginia funded roughly one-fifth of the cost ($409 million); Transurban provided $1.5 billion with considerable help from a $589 million federal loan through the TIFIA program.

The use of public-private partnerships to complete massive transportation projects is raising questions about Virginia’s lack of tax revenue and conservative debt capacity to build needed infrastructure. The state’s gasoline tax of $.17 per gallon hasn’t been raised in 25 years; 85 percent of gas tax revenues are used for maintenance of existing roadways, according to Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton.

“When you look at projects that are growing in cost and complexity it is becoming more difficult for the public sector to be able to design, build, and finance them,” Connaughton said. When pressed on whether the Republican administration of Governor Bob McDonnell would ask the state legislature to raise the gas tax, Connaughton would not commit to a position.

“The governor is working with his team right now as well as leadership in the general assembly to develop a consensus package to address our transportation funding challenges,” said Connaughton, who said gas tax revenues have been depleted by inflation and improved vehicle fuel efficiencies.

“People are buying more fuel efficient vehicles. They are buying alternative vehicles and hybrids, and we are actually seeing an impact on our gas tax revenues for vehicle miles traveled,” he said.

The gasoline tax’s diminishing returns are not a reason to avoid raising it, according to Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).

“So long as the current administration in Richmond is unwilling to deal straightforwardly with the issue of declining revenue, we are going to starve the Commonwealth of any new infrastructure except for projects like this which are uniquely funded with massive amounts of federal aid,” Connolly said, referring to the large federal loan secured by Fluor-Transurban.

Connolly said both Virginia and the federal government should raise their gas taxes and index them to inflation. The federal gas tax has remained at $.18 per gallon since 1993.

If an attempt were made to finance such a project by floating bonds without leveraging private equity, Connaughton said the state’s debt capacity would not allow it.

“Almost all the debt capacity for the state is spoken for today and out into the future. If you want to get projects done, given the cost involved, you have to look for ways to bring in the private sector,” said Connaughton, who acknowledged public-private partnerships only work in cases where the private sector investor would have a dedicated revenue stream. In the instance of the 495 Express Lanes, that would be tolls.

“There are a limited number of projects that actually can generate the types of revenues that help offset the costs of the infrastructure. Public-private partnerships are a tool in the tool chest. We want to use them where they make sense… but at the end of the day we still have to look at the broader package of funding sources,” Connaughton said.

In Connolly's view, public-private partnerships have another limitation. "There is a limit to the public tolerance for new toll facilities," he said.

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Transportation Nation

Why Transportation Planning Gets It Wrong

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

(photo by Martin DiCaro/WAMU)

The completion of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project connecting Virginia and Maryland in one of the region’s most congested corridors is the latest in a number of major infrastructure projects that are unfolding in the Washington metropolitan area.

The Silver Line rail link to Dulles Airport, the HOT lanes projects on I-495 and I-95 in Virginia, and the ICC and Purple Line in Maryland all raise an issue government agencies, planners and transit advocates have been grappling with for decades: how to connect a growing population with job centers in one of the nation’s most economically vital regions, where low unemployment rates and continued growth defy the national trend.

Moreover, at a time when funding for transportation projects is increasingly difficult to obtain, choosing the wrong solution to traffic congestion is all the more costly; there is no way to undo a $2 billion dollar road or rail link if it ultimately does not meet a region’s needs. Urban planners have argued that widening major highways will only temporarily relieve bottlenecks.

“If you have job centers that are accessible from a wider geographic span, you are going to get the best talent to your job center,” said John Undeland, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s part of the Wilson Bridge project. “But if congestion is constricting those opportunities, so you are only able to draw a talent pool from a smaller geographic area, it doesn't work as well.”

On Monday, after a decade of construction, five lanes were opened in each direction between the busy Telegraph Road interchange in Virginia and the bridge connecting to Maryland, ending a terrible bottleneck that routinely caused traffic jams that stretched for miles.

“It’s a soul-killing experience to be sitting there day after day,” Undeland said.

While the Woodrow Wilson Bridge has improved the driving experience, transit advocates say it is a missed opportunity that speaks to a larger issue: whether the regional economy will continue to prosper through a reliance on highway expansion.  Once-promising plans to use the Wilson Bridge’s center lanes for rail transit were never realized.

Over three-quarters of all jobs in the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. are located in neighborhoods with transit service, according to a research paper by Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

“The reality is in terms of sustainability, we cannot endlessly build roads forever. We can't continue to take up endless amount of land space for highways,” said Tomer, who said highway expansion can be an effective as part of a multi-modal solution to congestion.  For instance, the I-495 HOT lanes project in northern Virginia will charge motorists a premium toll to avoid the normally congested non-toll lanes while also promoting carpooling and some express bus service.

“The solutions that work in each community are so different. Transit can only work in certain communities. In others, private automobile use or carpooling is going to be the preferred commuting mode,” Tomer said.

As important as finding the right mix of transportation infrastructure is where corporations decide to locate their job centers. In Tomer’s view, different jurisdictions are better served thinking regionally as they compete to attract corporate headquarters within their boundaries. Wherever a company decides to locate, the offices should be near a regional transit network so people from further distances may easily commute there.

“A whole suite of investments is what will help this metropolitan economy prosper. We need to continue to invest in public transportation. Fortunately, we are doing that here,” he said.

But large companies still have to make the right decisions, at least in the view of smart growth advocates. They point to the example of Northrop Grumman, which rejected a transit-adjacent site in Ballston in favor of a suburban office park near the Beltway and Route 50 when choosing a location for its headquarters.

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Transportation Nation

What's the Best Way to Build New Highways: Private? Public? Tolls? Magic?

Friday, August 03, 2012

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) As the opening of the Interstate 495 Express Lanes on northern Virginia's Capital Beltway draws closer, backers of the $2 billion project say they cannot guarantee the four new HOT lanes will achieve the goal of reducing traffic congestion while simultaneously returning a profit for their private sector operator.

The admission is noteworthy because there was enormous investment made by a private entity. The tolls revenues that are supposed to supply its profit are off limits to the state of Virginia for the next seven decades.

The HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes will run next to the Beltway's non-toll lanes between the Dulles Toll Road and I-95 in Springfield, Va., one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region. The project is the result of a public-private partnership between the state of Virginia and Fluor-Transurban, a company that has built similar facilities in the United States and abroad.

In the deal, the state received four new lanes of traffic capacity, a repaving of the Beltway, and a fully electronic toll facility for individual commuters and HOV-3 carpoolers. Transurban gets the toll revenues for the next 75 years, but company officials say they may not turn a profit at all.

"The private sector is responsible for paying back the debt and paying to operate and maintain the lanes," said Jennifer Aument, a Transurban spokeswoman, at a recent press conference to promote the new E-ZPass Flex device that will be necessary for HOT lanes carpoolers to have.

Transurban provided about 75 percent of the capital necessary to build the new lanes and toll gantries. Public money was necessary to cover about one-fourth of the costs and finalize the partnership because projected toll revenues were not sufficient for Transurban to finance the entire project itself.

HOT lane popularity has been mixed in other cities. Houston is currently considering additional promotion and advertising to get more drivers using new HOT lanes that are under capacity.

"If the traffic doesn't come and we can't generate the revenue, we are taking the risk on this project," Aument said of the Virginia plan. "But we believe because the 495 Express Lanes will provide a faster, more reliable trip which is much needed in this great region, it will be a success for us, for VDOT, and for travelers."

Not your normal toll road

The idea behind the 495 Express Lanes is not that commuters will use them every day; commuters are expected to pay the potentially pricey toll on days when they need the reliability and predictability that a congestion-free highway would present.

The tolling will be dynamically priced; the more commuters that use the toll lanes at a given time during the day the higher the toll will be. Raising the toll during peak travel periods will prevent the new lanes from getting congested, as is usually the case during rush hour in the adjacent non-toll lanes.

Carpoolers may use the HOT lanes for free as long there are at least three occupants in the vehicle. If carpooling is too successful, Virginia taxpayers will wind up subsidizing some HOV-3 trips.

The contract between Virginia and Transurban requires the state to pay subsidies if the number of carpoolers reaches at least 24 percent "of the total flow of all [vehicles] that are... going in the same direction for the first 30 consecutive minutes during any day... during which average traffic for [the toll lanes] going in the same direction exceeds a rate of 3,200 vehicles per hour..."

During peak travel times -- if carpoolers make up about one-fourth of all vehicles in the HOT lanes -- the state will have to pay Transurban 70 percent of the lost toll per vehicle. Both VDOT and Transurban are downplaying the possibility that taxpayers will have to subsidize carpoolers.

"Is there a back stop? The answer to that is yes. Do we think we will get there? The answer to that is no. And if we do, we still consider that a success," says Charlie Kilpatrick, VDOT's chief deputy commissioner. "That's a success story because we would have such a great usage in HOV, much further beyond what we ever imagined."

"Carpooling could expand by more than 10 times on the Beltway before this provision would go into effect," says Aument, who says the subsidy will not be paid if Transurban clears a certain profit on toll revenue, about 12 percent. "It's there as a stop-gap in the extraordinary circumstance that there are so many carpoolers that we can't collect enough toll revenue to operate and maintain the road."

Public-private partnerships are the future

Without the capital of Transurban the 495 Express Lanes would have remained just an idea. To build the $2 billion road, however, the state agreed to Transurban receiving the toll revenues for the next 75 years, even though the company hopes to have paid off its project debt in 30 years.

"It is frankly unrealistic to believe that there are sufficient public funds for these enormous projects in Virginia," says Kilpatrick.

Virginia has been one of the most active states in the country in signing public-private partnerships, according to Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center and former assistant secretary of transportation policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"The private sector is putting a lot of money into this only with the assurance that they will get a return on their investment to service the debt that they have incurred to construct it," Frankel says. "So the public had to give up something to get this built."

"If you like the Beltway the way it is and you don't want anything built at all, then it's a bad deal," says Frankel. "Most of the residents of Virginia wanted this increased capacity. By taking some of the traffic off the free lanes, it should improve the flow of traffic on the free lanes as well." Express buses will also have access to the HOT lanes.

Private entities take the risk

Some private highway ventures have not gone as planned. The Pocahontas Parkway near Richmond, an 8.8-mile tolled freeway between the junction of I-95 and VA-150, has yet to meet traffic projections and may have to go through another financial restructuring. The Dulles Greenway saw its finances restructured for the first time in 1999 after projected levels of traffic and tolls didn't materialize. Frankel expects 495 to be more successful than the aforementioned toll roads because the HOT lanes were built directly adjacent to congested travel lanes.

"You are getting increased capacity on a crowded, unreliable facility," says Frankel, who says the 91 Express Lanes, which run for 10 miles in southern California, are an example of a successful dynamic tolling and HOV-3 system.

Better options?

Smart growth advocates are unhappy with the deal the state received in losing access to toll revenues for 75 years, and argue that VDOT should have considered alternatives to Beltway expansion.

"I think we should be looking at all alternatives upfront, and look more objectively at transit and transit-oriented development and lower cost approaches," says Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "We should look at public ownership of the toll lanes so we have access to those revenues in the future."

"VDOT rejected at the earliest stages a transit alternative for this corridor. They were prevailed upon to do another transit study, but they promptly put it on a shelf. They never took seriously a transit-oriented development for this corridor," says Schwartz, who says Virginia could have considered something similar to the Purple Line, a proposed 16-mile light rail line that will extend from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

"Our concern is the rush to do these public-private deals has been reducing the consideration of alternatives in project corridors," Schwartz adds. In his estimation, if the new lanes on 495 eventually attract more commuters, congestion could increase on secondary roads when those added vehicles ultimately exit the highway.

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Transportation Nation

How Are Houston's HOT Lanes Working? It Depends.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Houston is one of the bigger test cases for the traffic reduction powers of High Occupancy Toll lanes where drivers can pay for access to an express lane, or carpool for free access.  Nearly five months after opening, Houston's HOT lanes are an "under-utilized asset according to reporting by KUHF.

Gail Delaughter of KUHF reports 450 drivers a day are willing to pay those tolls, that's way under capacity because many drivers don't know they can access what used to be HOV lanes for a fee.

Delaughter speaks with Metro CEO on projections for growth and new road signage to help.

Listen to or read the full story at KUHF.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Detroit's Furious Bus Riders, NYC Taxis To Remove "Off-Duty" Signs, LA To Get More Bikeways

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Transit, Jobs, Construction Noise: Rockland Residents Air Worries About Swiftly Approaching Tappan Zee Bridge Project (Link)
Transit Museum Forum on Back of the Bus is TONIGHT (Link)
NY City Council Bill Would Up Electric Bike Fine (Link)
Study: Only 28 Percent of Neighborhoods Affordable (Link)
As GOP Struggles in Michigan, Obama Chortles — Says Fuel Efficient Cars Will Save $8000 (Link)
New Prospect Park Drive: Defined Lanes, Less Room for Cars (Link)

A Detroit bus stop. (By Flickr user JSmith Photo)

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica thinks that critics who believe Congress can pass a better transportation bill next year are “smoking the funny weed.” (Politico)

Detroit transit riders are outraged over huge bus cuts -- and the mayor's hiring of a private contractor to manage the city's troubled transportation department -- and plan to seek federal help in reversing the mayor's decisions. (Detroit Free Press)

New York Times editorial: the proposed Tappan Zee greenway "could be a splendid public attraction." (Link)

NYC cabs will have to start removing their taxi-top 'off-duty' signs to make way for the new system: available if the medallion number is lit, or unavailable if it’s dark. (New York Daily News)

Rules requiring rear-view video cameras in cars have been delayed again. (AP via Yahoo Finance)

Megabus' weighty double-decker coaches, currently being investigated by New York's Department of Transportation, have run afoul of authorities from Canada to Maryland. (DNA Info)

Worried Democrats want Obama to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower gas prices. (The Hill)

The mayor of London said some lines on the Underground would have driverless trains in two years. (Telegraph)

Commercial truck traffic on the NJ Turnpike has declined by 7.5%; high fuel prices and last month's toll hike are cited as possible reasons why. (Star-Ledger)

Nearly five months after a $50 million HOT lane project opened in metro Atlanta, drivers remain dubious, the impact on traffic is unclear, and many questions remain unanswered. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

830 miles of new bikeways have been approved for Los Angeles County. (LAist)

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Transportation Nation

Florida HOT Lane Expansion Gaining Top Level Support

Friday, October 28, 2011

(Image via Florida DOT)

(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) A plan to expand managed toll lanes on highways around Florida is gaining support in top offices at the state and national level.  This week Governor Rick Scott, speaking on a Florida radio program, said that he endorses creating more High Occupancy/Toll lanes, where drivers drivers pay a fee to use them, especially during rush hours.

Last week in Orlando, Republican Congressman John Mica who chairs the House Transportation Committee said he also wants the program to move forward.  “What we hope to do is free up the inside median and the right of way and allow innovative financing plans.  We have many companies that will come in and partner with the state or local governments and commissions and provide additional laneage based on toll and revenue.” Several years ago, Mica inserted a provision into federal law prohibiting any new tolls on existing interstates in his district. He says, the ban will stay, and that only new lanes will be tolled.

An expansion of Interstate 4 around parts of Orlando using the HOT Lane concept, or as it is informally called, “Lexus lanes” is being considered under a new transportation plan unveiled earlier this year by state Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad.

Florida is facing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall this year. Expanded tolling is expected to help bridge the budget gap.  Florida already has HOT Lanes under the "Florida Express" program that runs on a 7.3 mile stretch of I-95 in Miami Dade County. Carpools and motorcycles don't have to pay, everyone else pays based on a variable congestion pricing scheme that rises the more crowded a lane is getting at a given time. According to a review of state DOT data by PolitiFact the lanes reduced traffic, "speeds for rush-hour traffic in non-toll lanes had improved from 25 m.p.h. to 45 m.p.h."

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Transportation Nation

Carmageddon: Does Los Angeles Need More Lanes?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Matt Logue's photo illustration of an empty I-405 through Los Angeles. Visit

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) – This weekend’s “Carmageddon,” the fallout expected from a complete shutdown of 10 miles of Interstate 405 through the Sepulveda Pass between downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, has taken the shape of a summer blockbuster. It’s going to be big, suspenseful, action-packed, life-changing. Except instead of a must-see, Carmageddon is this season’s must-avoid.

Listen to the Matt Dellinger and L.A.-based journalist Alyssa Walker on the Takeaway here.

The brouhaha derives from a $1 billion effort to add a single carpool lane to the Interstate, which first requires the tearing-down and reconstruction of the Mullholland bridge that crosses it and cramps it. That demolition is why the road must be closed completely for the weekend. Of course, even on a good day, the 405 is considered taboo by locals who can avoid it. The half million cars that routinely drive the 405 ever weekend will need to find other routes, or not leave the garage, the prospect of either is what the city is bracing for.

The city’s transit agency will be temporarily waiving fares in an effort to encourage behavior that is, well, alien to most Angelinos. And Jet Blue offered—and sold out of—special $4 tickets between Burbank and Long Beach, the absurdity of which we won’t even attempt to detail. Anyway, others have captured the mania well, as one can see from LA Weekly's arch FAQ and this amusing video collage (with bad language) concocted by Good magazine.

The closing of one of the highway-happy city’s great arteries has clearly hit a nerve, and its not hard to understand why. Just as Y2K scare tapped into our country’s latent unease about increasingly digital world, the closure of the 405 exposes Los Angeles’ complete dependency on its bloated freeway network. (For a wonderful historical perspective on the 405’s place in Los Angeles landscape, see Mike Anton’s retrospective in the Los Angeles Times. For gripping photo illustrations of empty LA Streets, check out the work of animation supervisor Matt Logue, or even buy a print.)

Christopher Hawthorne, the architecture critic for the LA Times, dished out a little schadenfreude, but wondered whether the scene would play out so terribly after all: “Still, it's not as though L.A. has not been through this before. When the 10 Freeway was shut down for three months after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, drivers adjusted and life went on. Longtime Angelenos still talk about how light traffic was during the 1984 Summer Olympics, despite predictions of regionwide gridlock.”

I spoke on an infrastructure panel with Hawthorne this spring at the LA Times Festival of Books, and saw him draw gasps and angry looks when he suggested that Los Angeles should join other cities in tearing down elevated stretches of freeways in favor of surface boulevards with park-like walkable retail districts. It wouldn’t be such a drastic change, he quipped, “The 405 is basically a park already.”

Highway-to-Boulevard conversions might be a far reach for LA, but widespread transit improvements and innovative congestion relief measures are already underway around town. Last week, the city broke ground on a pilot conversion of 25 miles of existing carpool lanes to tolled “ExpressLanes.” On long swaths of the 10 and the 110, HOV lanes (High Occupancy Vehicle) will become HOT lanes (High Occupancy Toll). Solo drivers will be able to pay anywhere between a quarter to $1.40 per mile to drive the open lanes during peak hours. When the option presents itself in 2013, the city is projecting a first year take of $20 million in tolls.

Nearby Orange County, as it happens, is home to the first HOT lanes in the country. In December of 1995, managed toll lanes opened along California 91, the Riverside freeway. Their success has led many to believe that HOT lanes have great potential. We are regularly reminded (pdf) of their virtues by the Libertarian likes of Robert Poole at the California-based Reason Foundation, and they’ve been recently deployed in places as geographically and politically varied as on the Katy Freeway in Houston and around the Beltway in Washington, DC.

These managed lanes are priced according to demand, either dynamically or with set schedules, and they let eager drivers choose to pay a toll that can in turn be spent subsidizing buses that now have a congestion-free lane to travel. Best of all, the underlying philosophy is more sound. Pricing current capacity more aggressively to encourage more efficient use holds more promise than constantly trying to build ahead of demand, a folly that even Los Angeles recognizes as impossible.

Marc Littman, a spokesman for the regional Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told the Associated Press that the new HOT lane conversions were the future for southern California. "It's very difficult to build new freeways in the Los Angeles area — we're just built out,” he said. “So the idea is to better manage the freeways that we have, to squeeze more capacity out of them.” Freeways aren’t free, he insisted. You pay with money, or you pay with traffic.

Metro spokesman Rick Jager agreed. He told KTLA, "We don't have the money to build new freeways. We don't have the land to build new freeways, so this is a way that we can better manage what we already have."

In time, maybe the new 405 lane will undergo a similar transformation. Already, Metro is counting it as a transit project, because "potential project alternatives could include light rail, bus rapid transit service on the I-405 carpool lanes with bus-only on and off ramps, peak-hour bus rapid transit-only shoulder lanes, or a transit/toll facility." But in the short-term, of course, the city is focused on the benefits to cars, the alleged improvement in traffic flow and air quality that may come, very temporarily, from having one more lane.

Without "project alternatives" like those mentioned, the widening will probably just mean more cars. But if the lesson being taught elsewhere in the city gets learned, Carmageddon may be the last of a dying breed of highway capacity projects. If we’re lucky, there won’t be a sequel.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Virginia Alters Major Highway Plan After County Refuses To Drop Lawsuit

Thursday, February 03, 2011

(Washington, D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) Sean Connaughton, Virginia's Secretary of Transportation, announced this morning that the state is scaling back a project to add High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes to one of its most congested highways.

The state had planned to build HOT lanes along I-95, from far-exurban Stafford County all the way to the state line along the Potomac River. But the project ran into a snag when Arlington County sued the state in federal court. Arlington claimed the HOT lanes project unfairly received a federal environmental exemption in the waning days of the Bush administration, and also that it would violate the civil rights of the minority residents who live near the highway.

This morning, Connaughton announced a major change to the HOT lanes project: the lanes will still begin in Stafford County, but they will now terminate at the Beltway in Fairfax County, well before the Arlington County line.

Connaughton says, with congestion getting worse and worse on I-95 in Northern Virginia, and with a major traffic nightmare expected to crop up later this year when the Army moves thousands of its employees to a transit-inaccessible location near the highway, Virginia couldn't wait any longer to move forward with the HOT lanes project.

Check back in with WAMU News later today and tomorrow for more on this story.

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Transportation Nation

SERIES: The Future of Transportation

Monday, November 08, 2010

Image: Amtrak

We’re changing how we move, and that’s changing how we live and work. Transportation Nation partner, Marketplace, is exploring the Future of Transportation this week. We'll collect the stories in this post as they air. Check your local station to find out when the show is on in your area.

A quick hint of what's to come: 200 mile per hour trains will steal business from airlines, cars will talk to each other and traffic, well, there will still be traffic--but there’s innovation there too.

WEDNESDAY: What are the real prospects of high-speed rail in California? In 2008, voters approved a $10 billion bond measure to fund a train that can zip people from L.A. to San Francisco in just two-and-a-half hours. A rail trip faster, safer than driving and, well, we'll wait and see on the price. But the train would also be noisy, and to some residents, and unwanted eyesore. Palo Alto and two other cities are suing the state to stop California's plan. It's by no means a sure thing.  So what are the real chances and real obstacles to the nation's bigger rail project underway right now? (Listen to the full story here)

WEDNESDAY: Could high-speed rail kill short hop flights? Last month, the U.S. government pledged another $2.5 billion for high speed rail. That money will go toward building train lines between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Chicago and Detroit–the kind of short trip a business traveler right now takes to the skies for. So what will happen to airlines when trains will get us to a place almost as fast?(Listen to the story here)

TUESDAY:  Are fast buses the ticket? Buses have a bad rap, but done right, experts say, they can be as fast as subways, more pleasant, and WAY, way cheaper.  A look at Cleveland's healthline, and why Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Portland are paying attention.  (Listen to the full story).

TUESDAY: Leading the electric charge in Houston

Houston, Tex., is usually better known as a capital of Big Oil. But things may be changing, as the nation's fourth largest city is also trying position itself as a leader in electric cars. (Listen to the full story)

MONDAY: Intelligent Cars

It's tempting to daydream -- as you're fighting traffic to and from work every day -- of a time when cars will drive themselves. When all you'll have to do is climb in, sip your coffee and read the headlines on your iPad -- whatever's going to take its place. Google did make big news last month sending four driver-less vans down the Pacific Coast Highway.

But as exciting -- or perhaps scary -- as it might be to think about life with a robotic chauffeur, that reality is way, way down the road, so to speak. Soon enough, though, cars will be equipped to help us drive better and safer.  The Department of Transportation is funding research to build "intelligent" cars that can warn you of potential accidents and suggest less-congested routes.   (Listen to the full story)

MONDAY: Congestion Pricing

This is a given:  Transportation is vital to our economy. But what happens when fuel taxes are lost to more efficient cars and better mass transit? In the first of a series on the "Future of Transportation," Cathy Duchamp looks at one alternative to the gas tax, something called congestion pricing. As cars get more fuel efficient, and transit becomes a better option, the amount of gasoline tax the government collects gets smaller and smaller. Congestion pricing might the answer, even on highways.  (Listen to the full story)

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Transportation Nation

HOT Lanes to Launch in Houston, Let Drivers Pay to Avoid Traffic

Thursday, November 04, 2010

(Houston, TX –– Wendy Siegle, KUHF) Houston is planning to let solo drivers pay to drive in a special, faster lane, for the right price. The plan is expected to reduce traffic overall, though it raises some equity concerns that rich drivers can buy a faster commute while everyone else pays the price.

In its latest budget, Metro put aside $20 million in federal funds to turn 84 miles of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes into High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. That means cars with just one person in them will be able to pay a fee to access the HOV lane and skip the stop and go traffic. The lanes be controlled by a transit agency, not the Harris County Toll Road Authority, the agency normally in charge of toll roads in the area.

Houston Metro president and CEO George Greanias says the existing HOV lanes are practically empty around 80 percent of the time. "With the exception of just some peak periods, there’s usually additional capacity there that’s not getting used," says Greanias. "In the meantime, you’ve got the lanes adjacent to HOV lanes that are congested due to all the heavy traffic."

Map of Proposed Hot Lanes

Carpools, vanpools, and buses will be able to

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Transportation Nation

Time is money in Bay Area HOT lanes

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) How much do you value your time? That’s the question drivers will have to ask themselves if they hit heavy traffic on I-680 next week: do they want to wait it out, for free, or zip into an open lane that might cost $6 or more to use? Beginning next Monday, a 14-mile stretch of I-680 between Sunol and Milpitas will have a new traffic lane that accepts both carpools (which ride free) and single drivers (who will have to pay).

The I-680 project is a pilot for what officials say will someday be an 800-mile network of high-occupancy/toll lanes (HOT lanes) around the Bay. The lanes are new to this area, but they’ve been around for years in several cities around the country; the first such lanes opened in 1995 down in Orange County. Though there’s some regional variation to how they work, HOT lanes are based on the idea that placing a value on the ability to avoid congestion lightens the traffic load for everybody. Those who are willing to pay, do, but enough people don’t that traffic in the lane always moves freely.

The pay-to-play structure means that the lanes are often derided as “Lexus Lanes” that make things a little cushier for the wealthy while unfairly penalizing the poor. Unfortunately, there’s not much empirical research on whether this is true, and what studies there have been show conflicting results.

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