Tag Archives: Hot Lanes

“Arlington says maybe to new HOT lanes plan”

December 14 at 12:28 PM | Washington Post

Those things that look like pizza boxes record toll information as drivers pass under the gantries on the 95 and 495 express lanes. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The Arlington County Board is one of the big reasons the 95 Express Lanes stop just north of the Capital Beltway rather than continuing up I-395 to the Potomac River. The board’s response to the original plan for the high-occupancy toll lanes was a lawsuit.

On Tuesday night, the 2016 version of the board voted 5-0 to give qualified support to the Virginia government’s plan to replace today’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes in the middle of I-395 with HOT lanes, creating the northern extension of the HOT lanes.

What changed? The new plan, first presented by the Virginia Department of Transportation about one year ago, creates no new interchanges along the eight miles of the extension and has a limited effect on the existing ones. (The Eads Street interchange near the Pentagon will get some work to improve traffic flow, which it very much needs.) Another very important change in plan is to guarantee spending on programs that will let commuters leave their cars behind for trips in the I-395 corridor. Those programs haven’t been selected yet, but they’re likely to focus on carpooling, commuter bus trips and filling in gaps along biking and walking routes.

Both those factors are likely to lessen the traffic impact on county residents, but despite the board’s limited endorsement on Tuesday night, board members and community leaders along the I-395 corridor remain concerned and watchful.

Board member Jay Fisette, who introduced the supportive motion on the project, described the state of things:

“This is going to happen,” he said of the HOT lanes project. “It’s going to start construction next year.”

But his qualified support was based on the evolution of the plan: “When this proposal first came through, this was a very different project. This is a far better project.”

The process of developing the new project has been less confrontational and more cooperative. “There’s been collaboration between the state and the county,” Fisette said.

The board’s vote represents a significant change in thinking about the HOT lanes, but it wasn’t a legal hurdle the project had to overcome. The board wanted to get its resolution — both the supportive parts and the caveats — into the record as final decisions are made on the project. The state plans to begin construction in 2017 and open the express lanes in 2019.

The concerns voiced by board members and community leaders are natural on any big highway project that has a regional impact.

“Let’s be frank,” board member Christian Dorsey said. “The primary beneficiaries of all this are likely to live outside of Arlington,” a reference to long-distance commuters who travel from far suburbs to jobs at the Pentagon, Crystal City and the District — “whereas the primary impacts will be felt in Arlington.” People who live in the corridor are concerned about increases in traffic to and from the HOT lanes and the prospect of sound wall construction along the highway’s border.

“We just want to know that VDOT is on board to help us through it,” Dorsey said of the local concerns.

In consultation with their own transportation department, the board members amended the draft resolution that endorsed the concept of the HOT lanes extension. Among other things, the final resolution approved by the entire board asked that “VDOT move forward with an expanded traffic analysis to fully understand the impacts to arterial streets at signalized intersections at least one half mile beyond each interchange footprint, and commit to mitigation of those impacts in consultation with Arlington County.”

The HOT lanes project will convert the two HOV lanes of I-395 to three HOT lanes. Drivers who meet the HOV3 requirement can get a free ride in the HOT lanes if they have an E-ZPass Flex set to “HOV.” Other drivers will have to pay a toll collected electronically through a regular E-ZPass transponder. The toll will vary depending on traffic conditions. It’s the same tolling system drivers experience today on the 95 Express Lanes and the 495 Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway.

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“Whatever they call it, you pay more to go faster”

Would you do anything to get out of this rush-hour traffic where the Capital Beltway and I-270 merge? How about paying a toll for a faster lane? (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Would you do anything to get out of this rush-hour traffic where the Capital Beltway and I-270 merge? How about paying a toll for a faster lane? (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

 | Washington Post Columnist | September 24
Dear Dr. Gridlock:I am still somewhat confused by the difference between HOV and HOT lanes.

I have never liked the concept of tolls and prefer to avoid them at all costs. Should I need to drive to Leesburg, I simply go west on Route 7, bypassing the expensive toll [on the Dulles Toll Road].

There is very little time saved on the toll road versus Route 7. I have timed both routes and determined that the 10 minutes in savings using the toll road wasn’t worth the money.

I also do not use the high-occupancy toll lanes on the Capital Beltway. I am never quite certain exactly where I can exit and don’t want to be going 60-plus mph without having knowledge of whether my intended exit will be available. I have witnessed cars slamming on brakes and trying to drive backward to get off the toll lane.

Regarding your Aug. 28 column, I found it interesting that no response was given as to what tourists and nonresidents driving into Washington on eastbound Interstate 66 will do when they won’t have any idea what HOV or HOT lanes are and won’t have a transponder. This is the height of arrogance on the part of highway planners.

I find it preposterous that the high taxes on a variety of items we pay for in Virginia can’t cover decent roads and non-toll lanes.

— Joan Fiander, Annandale

The forecast for my letter writer and many travelers with similar views is a dark and stormy one.

This past week, a group of civic, business and political leaders in Maryland launched a campaign for improvements to I-270 that includes adding toll lanes. In making their pitch, several leaders of Fix270Now cited what Virginia has been doing in creating a network of HOT lanes.

And right now, Virginia is proceeding with the extension of that network onto I-66 and the rest of I-395, exposing the Annandale community to this style of highway travel in virtually all directions.

It’s difficult to know exactly what the road system for the 21st century will wind up looking like. Driverless cars, ride hailing and quicker access to information about travel options will revolutionize our thinking.

But various forms of toll roads are part of the future we can actually see.

Let’s start with the basic question that Fiander asked about differences in titles. The HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes are the carpool lanes, and they’ve been around the D.C. region for years, encouraging people to travel together in exchange for the promise of a quicker, more reliable trip.

I hate the name “HOT lanes.” Few people outside the transportation business know what “high-occupancy or toll” means. The basic idea is that drivers pay a toll unless they meet the carpool “high-occupancy” requirement, in which case they get a free ride.

It gives drivers more options for using the lanes, and it gives governments more money to build the lanes.

But you won’t see “HOT” on any sign approaching the lanes. It’s not a type of sign recognized under federal rules. In his traffic reports on radio station WTOP, Bob Marbourg calls them the “E-ZPass lanes,” and that’s as good a name as any, because “E-ZPass” actually does appear on the signs.

Ready for the advanced class? Maryland has toll roads, but at least so far, they aren’t HOT lanes. There’s no free ride for high-occupancy vehicles. So Maryland has “express toll lanes.” (The Dulles Toll Road isn’t either of those. It’s just a toll road.)

If a plan does evolve for adding express lanes to I-270, and perhaps to the west side of the Beltway and the American Legion Bridge, then the Maryland government will have to decide whether it wants to match its system with the Virginia system and give the carpoolers a break.

Future tourists and visitors? They will be in the same spot as today’s tourists and visitors approaching either HOV or HOT lanes. They’ll have to watch the signs and get out of lanes they shouldn’t be in.  <Story>

“Drivers ask what’s ahead on Washington region’s highways” Washington Post

Columnist August 27
Highway commuting is often described as a grind, the same ol’ same ol’. But many of those who do it daily are sensitive to change. This column addresses some of the concerns that travelers have raised this summer, starting with the setup now underway on Interstate 66 for the high-occupancy toll lanes.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Will you please clarify the occupancy rules for the HOT lanes inside the Capital Beltway? Does HOT allow single-occupancy vehicles to drive during rush hour as long as they pay, or are they subject to fines and tickets?

You noted that with the end of the Dulles Airport exemption, single-occupancy vehicles going to the airport can use an E-ZPass on I-66. Hope that doesn’t apply to all traffic.

Also, will HOV2 or HOV3 be toll free with E-ZPass Flex?

— Ben Feldman, the District

When the HOT lanes open on I-66 inside the Beltway next summer, solo drivers can use them if they pay the toll via their E-ZPass transponders. This is the same deal the soloists have right now on the Beltway and I-95 express lanes.

HOV2 drivers, which means drivers with at least one passenger, can get a free ride if they have an E-ZPass Flex transponder in the “HOV” setting. Here again, that’s the same deal drivers get on the other HOT lanes.

But that is set to change in 2020, when the free-ride carpool standard will toughen to HOV3, meaning a driver and at least two passengers.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In regard to the new I-66 HOT lanes inside the Beltway: Is every lane inbound and outbound going to be HOT requiring an E-ZPass? Will anyone traveling inbound or outbound have to have a transponder in their vehicle at all times?

If I occasionally want to travel on I-66 into the District from Northern Virginia, would I need a transponder? What about tourists driving in from the west who don’t have a clue how the E-ZPass works?

— Lee Handley, Takoma Park

This is complicated, and there won’t be anything else quite like it in the nation. During the peak time in the peak direction, all the lanes in that direction will be under the HOT rules. So all drivers will need some type of
E-ZPass, either to pay the variable toll or to claim the free ride as a carpooler.

On the other highways in Northern Virginia where HOT lanes exist, drivers can choose to stick with the regular lanes, where there’s no tolling and no need for an E-ZPass.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Can you explain the reasoning behind Virginia exempting motorcycles from paying tolls in HOT lanes and not hybrids?

— Dick Tobey, Annandale

Motorcycles are permitted by federal law to use HOV lanes, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The rationale is that it’s safer to keep two-wheeled vehicles moving in the HOV lanes than to have them travel in stop-and-go traffic in the regular lanes.

That federal free pass for motorcycles continues in Virginia’s HOT lanes. The state government created the temporary exemption for the hybrids in the HOV lanes on the condition that it would not gum up traffic for carpoolers.

The government had been planning to allow that to expire anyway as traffic speeds in the HOV lanes deteriorate. HOT lanes have to meet the same average traffic speed standards the HOV lanes do.

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“95 Express Lanes mark first anniversary” – Washington Post

December 30, 2015 / Robert Thomson

Tolling began one year ago Tuesday on 95 Express Lanes, yet their full impact on the D.C. region’s transportation system isn’t apparent yet.

So far, the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes are performing pretty much as billed. They provide a quicker and more reliable trip for toll payers and for carpoolers than do the regular lanes along 29 miles of Interstate 95 between the far southern suburbs of Stafford County and the spot just inside the Capital Beltway where they link with the I-395 High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes for the remaining eight miles to the D.C. line.

The vehicles most likely to be found in what are often derided as “Lexus Lanes” are Toyotas, Hondas and Fords. According to a study for Transurban, the company that operates the express lanes on I-95 as well as on the Capital Beltway, Lexus drivers account for 3 percent of the traffic.

[What we worried about when the express lanes opened]

A study done for Transurban in September by KRB Research found that 37 percent of the drivers in the 95 Express Lanes make $100,000 or more. Among the rest, 43 percent earn $50,000 to $100,000. (The $100,000 plus crowd is a bit more active on the 495 Express Lanes, where they represented 41 percent of drivers. The study said that nearly half of the HOT lanes drivers use both the Beltway and I-95 systems. The better-off drivers have the best representation in that group. According to the study, drivers who earn more than $100,000 account for 44 percent of the traffic using both sets of lanes.

The study also found that 34 percent of the weekday trips in the 95 Express Lanes are taken by drivers who qualify as HOV (mostly carpoolers). These are the drivers who get a free ride because they use the E-ZPass Flex with the switch flipped to the HOV setting.

Transurban officials cited traffic data from the Regional Integrated Transportation Information System to show the 95 Express Lanes providing a time savings for both the HOT lanes drivers and the regular traffic on I-95 in September compared with travel times a year earlier. While HOT lanes travel saves more time and is more consistent than travel in the regular lanes, Transurban said the data in the chart below shows drivers in the regular lanes of I-95 were better off than in the previous year.

Note that the chart shows travel times for the entire route where drivers can choose between the express lanes and the regular lanes. Some parts of the trip may be slower than others, and some days are clearly better than others.

And like so many other aspects of the HOT lanes system, the travel times are likely to evolve, as travel habits change and the infrastructure changes.

We’re years away from knowing whether housing patterns will change, because the 95 Express Lanes made it more convenient for commuters to live in the outer suburbs while working in Alexandria, the District, Arlington and parts of Fairfax County that include Tysons Corner. But changes in the express lanes network are likely to have a big impact, as well.

One of the biggest problems for I-95 drivers today is the southbound merge near Garrisonville Road where the express lanes and the regular lanes come together. At that spot, the HOT lanes are not working as planned. In the fall, Virginia transportation officials laid out a project to extend the HOT lanes two miles farther south to reduce some of that congestion, which affects drivers in all the lanes.

Meanwhile, the officials also unveiled a plan to extend the 95 Express Lanes north along I-395 to the D.C. line, replacing today’s HOV lanes with HOT lanes.

But the biggest plan of all is the one that would create HOT lanes on Interstate 66, both inside and outside the Beltway. When the system is completed around 2021, a driver willing to pay the toll could use the HOT lanes to get from a home near Woodbridge to a job along the I-66 corridor.

But if the state’s HOT lanes plans work as billed, the entire HOT lanes network will wind up with a much more robust system of carpooling and commuter buses than what we see today. Northern Virginia is far more likely to see its commuter bus network develop than it is to see any extension of Metrorail during the next decade or more.

Also, the creation of the express lanes network is key factor leading Northern Virginia to pursue discussions with Maryland about improving the Potomac River crossing at the American Legion Bridge and the Montgomery County side of the Beltway.

So the first anniversary of the 95 Express Lanes isn’t so much a time to assess toll rates or traffic volumes in what’s still just the start-up phase for this route. The anniversary is more of a reminder that Virginia has set the stage for a major transformation of the travel system in the D.C. suburbs.