Prince William Board of County Supervisors Corey
Stewart called High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes
“a sham.” Seems Stewart and his colleagues on
the Prince William Board of Supervisors would
rather see commuters stuck in traffic than give
them an option to spend more time with friends and
families at home.
lanes have successfully relieved congestion
everywhere they’ve been implemented. They’ve
been so successful that they’re supported from
the political left and right alike, from
environmental groups like the Environmental
Defense Fund to local business associations.
you’re unfamiliar with HOT lanes, they use
variable pricing to mitigate congestion and ensure
a free flow of traffic. As demand goes up so does
the toll; likewise, the price goes down with a
drop in demand.
ability to adjust prices enables the operator to
manage the flow of traffic dynamically and keep
the lanes relatively free of congestion, even at
the height of rush hour.
California, home to the country's worst gridlock,
has had great success with HOT lanes. On Orange
County's 91 Express Lanes, drivers pay a variable
toll that goes up during rush hours, in exchange
for access to a lane that is guaranteed to be
moving at 65 miles per hour. If the average speed
is less, commuters see their toll refunded.
lanes operating in Houston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake
City, Denver and San Diego show that variable
pricing works. By using a price to discourage some
people from traveling in peak hours, HOT lanes
actually provide more mobility. A free-flowing
highway lane has much greater throughput per hour
than a congested lane — about 50 percent more.
Orange County’s HOT Lanes account for just
one-third of the highway’s lanes but carry half
of all rush-hour traffic.
and carpools of three or more people would
continue to ride free, while others could choose
to pay a toll upwards of $1 a mile to use
congestion free lanes. At that price, a 21-mile,
rush-hour trip from the Pentagon to Prince William
Parkway would cost as much as $22.28 — one of
the most expensive commutes in the country.
too expensive for many, HOT lanes will find users.
With a peak rate of $9.25 for a 10-mile ride
California’s SR-91 had more than 12 million
lanes give every motorist “congestion
insurance,” an alternative to gridlocked
freeways for those times when they really need it
— if you’re willing to pay a premium.
including Chairman Stewart argue “that only the
very affluent will be in those lanes." The
reality based on experience and data proves him
wrong. People of all incomes levels use HOT lanes,
but very few people use them every day.
a decade of data available from the 91 Express
Lanes in Orange County and the HOT lanes on I-15
in San Diego indicate that the vast majority of
drivers — high and low income — use the HOT
lanes only occasionally, not daily.
studies of the 91 Express Lanes indicate that use
increases slightly with income group, 20 percent
of the users are from the lowest income group, and
another 23 percent are from the second-lowest
2005 there were more than 12 million trips on the
91 Express Lanes, with most people using the lanes
as congestion insurance. When people have to pick
up their kids at day care, they know the toll is
less than the late fees. When they have to make a
flight or get to a child's soccer game, they know
they have a traffic-free alternative.
lowest income users are least able to afford these
costs of congestion, and studies show they welcome
addition, Stewart's line of argument ignores how
HOT lanes benefit all commuters. For every car
that chooses to use HOT lanes, one less car is
using the “free” lanes, improving traffic flow
on those lanes as well.
also see HOT lanes as a way to boost transit
service by providing open roads for buses. Indeed,
the HOT lanes being added to the Katy Freeway in
Houston guarantee transit 25 percent of the
capacity. Tolls from solo users help pay for the
transit operations (as well as local road
line, HOT lanes work. They improve mobility, give
commuters an opportunity to escape congestion, and
improve transit operations. Our freeways don’t
have to resemble parking lots. HOT lanes will be a
vital piece in our war against congestion.
March 21, 2007