395/95 HOT Lane Still Rolling Forward

The HOT lane proposal for Interstates 395/95 is moving ahead. The Virginia Department of Transportation has signed an interim agreement with Fluor Virginia and Transurban USA, agreeing to split the $53 million cost of the engineering/study phase.

Fluor/Transurban propose adding a third lane to the existing HOV corridor that would allow high-occupancy vehicles to drive free and charge variable, time-of-day tolls for other drivers. Additionally, the original proposal called for building six park-and-ride lots and upgrading 12 bus stations.

The state is taking a risk, observes Kelly Hannon with the Free Lance-Star, because there’s no guarantee that the detailed study will show the project to be economical. In 2003, Fluor/Transurban estimated a cost of $913 million, but there has been considerable inflation in the construction sector since then. Studies for the two legs of the project should wrap up by early 2009.

Meanwhile, with a hat tip to blogger Jon Baliles, Trucker.com is reporting: “Utah has opened its first fee-for-service highway by allowing a limited number of solo drivers to use carpool lanes on Interstate 15 for a monthly $50 fee. The initial offering of 600 passes is sold out.”

The monthly subscription approach is an approach to congestion pricing that I have not seen discussed in Virginia.

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11 responses to “395/95 HOT Lane Still Rolling Forward”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “no guarantee that the detailed study will show the project to be economical.”

    Okay – $64 question time.

    What makes this road economical (or not)?

    Is there a documented criteria that the public has access to that can help them understand.. the economics of this?

    How about if we do this without PPTA.. and use taxpayer/driver funding?

    How then would we know that this project would be “economical”.

    The whole dialogue to date with respect to PPTA, 460, I-95, I-81, I-73 Beltway, etc is BOGUS to the core with respect to “economics” and public information flow in my view.

    VDOT makes these announcements – which are essentially dead toads dropped on the floor – watch your step … with virtually no explanation other than “we’ll let you know when we know” type discussions… or they’ll drop “tidbits” like .. it “may require some public funding” but again.. we’ll get back to you later about this” – to “inform the public” about the decision.


    This is WHY we need VDOT to be out of the road building business. They cannot even preside over a PPTA process without confusing the public and engendering suspicion of the entire enterprise.

    Apparently they’ve got to be in control of the project AND the information associated with the project… and the public is little more than onerous .. complication that requires firewalling information that should be public to begin with.

    If folks want to fret over unaccountable and unelected officials exercising raw power to impose decisions .. then fret about this.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Accountability is a big issue. I sent Jim a note about the London traffic charging scheme, and how the benefits were calculated. According to the author, before and after studies show the $16 charge winds up saving you 15 seconds on a five kilometer trip in London. But the way the studies are presented, this shows up as a 30% reduction in congestion.

    Furthermore, almost all the money collected is used to run the complicated system, so it isn’t throwing off as much cash as expected.

    You just can’t believe anything from either side, and that makes it hard to make real progress.

  3. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    METRO offers parking spaces on a monthly subscription basis. I may be easier to understand the lack of parking capacity then intersection capacity.

    Permit programs are often used to provide local versus out of state pricing. For areas with limited capacity permit sales at a Dutch action have been successful. This idea has not reached VDOT. One place where it should work is I-66 inside the beltway.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m not an advocate of more roads – for more roads sake nor do I accept the premise that more roads should be built simply because VMT is rising – and we must respond to the demand.

    I think the reason why VMT is rising simply has to do with cost verses convenience calculations that most of us make – but it’s a no-brainer because the costs are so low as to have virtually no affect on most decisions.

    But the current allocated costs – come nowhere close to the actual costs to build and maintain the roads.

    People who drive 100 miles a day – do so for about $1.50 in terms of their actual costs of using infrastructure.

    We pay the same low amount no matter whether we are driving at 2 a.m. on a empty country road or whether we are driving at the height of rush hour on the most congested roads in No Va.

    The only penalty is our own time not our own money.

    Road advocates actually try to put a dollar value on time lost in traffic as justification for more roads but fail to make the connection about allocating those costs towards managing congestion levels so there is less time lost to begin with.

    I’m not in favor of artificial rules and regs designed to get people to drive “less” but I am fully in favor of assigning the realistic costs associated with the choices they make and to let people make decisions themselves about when and where they wish to drive – based on them actually paying the allocated costs of their own decisions.

    And I include in that philosophy, Congestion Pricing tolls as a way to balance and manage demand on highways at rush hour – because doing so – saves everyone more money for new roads by maximizing the useage of the current roads.

    This may not be all that needs to be done but I believe that it needs to be among the first of things that would be done because many of the new roads that are being advocated are for rush hour capacity in areas where there is no room for more roads unless you start tearing down existing infrastruture and/or parks and green spaces or destroying the quality of life of those whose homes are impacted.

    I don’t know if folks saw the prospective toll for the I-95 HOT lanes – it was on the order of $15.00 one way for a 50 mile trip.

    This is a fair charge because, in fact, it’s the kind of money that will be needed to ultimately improve the existing roadway…

    and I guarantee that if this same TOLL were imposed on all major interstates across the NOVa region that the result would be immediate and drammatic in terms of rush hours.

    People would find their own personal strategies for avoiding or not avoiding all or part of the costs.

    For instance, slugging carpools would explode… useage of bus and transit would explode.

    and those that are hellbent to get to their offices during rush hour would also get their needs met.

    We absolutely MUST move away from an economic environment that does not allocate the true infrastructure costs to those that use that infrastructure.

    Once we do that – what is left to be “solved” will be manageable and doeable and will allow us to focus on improving and optimizing mobility.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Tolling on certain corridors is definitely part of a multi-prong transportation solution.

    Here’s a simple reality. The gas tax and user-fee for vehicles is also a fair way to get the users of the system to help pay for it. Unfortunately it has been held at artificially low levels due to politics.

    Raising the fuel tax to a realistic level would raise a firestorm from the gas station and car dealer lobbyists – we would put them out of business. Oh well, I guess we better not do that. Talk about tax breaks benefiting the few……

    Lot’s of talk about tolling solutions, devolution, and cell-phone business models. Meanwhile Rome is burning.

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 8:07, The gas tax is fine as a method for paying for road maintenance. There is a direct (though not perfect) correlation between how much tax a driver pays and the wear and tear he inflicts upon the road roads. If maintenance costs go up, the gas tax should go up. If maintenance costs go down (as they conceivably could if VDOT was allowed to put into place a better asset-management system), the gas tax should go down.

    What the gas tax should NOT be is a source of funds for new road construction that lobbyists and politicians can dispose of as they wish, without regard to any rational nexus between he who pays and he who benefits. To raise new funds for road improvements (over and above what the federal government provides), we should (a) put into place a system of congestion pricing on congested corridors, (b) invite private sector investment, financed by tolls, to build entirely new roads, and (c) tap the General Fund for projects whose purpose is solely related to economic development.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar

    (a) put into place a system of congestion pricing on congested corridors, (b) invite private sector investment, financed by tolls, to build entirely new roads, and (c) tap the General Fund for projects whose purpose is solely related to economic development.

    Agreed, Agreed, Agreed. The gas tax still needs to be higher though, even if it is just for maintenance. You are dreaming if you think maintenance costs are going down.

    However, we cannot expect a perfect nexus between use and payment, and I don’t see any reason why poltitcians and lobbyiest should not advocate for their pet projects. We are going to have more projects to do than we have money for. How else to get the best ideas on the table?

    It would be nice to think that we can make decisions objectively, based on need, but need itself is subjective.

    The whole package is a sytem, with many interlocking interests and benefits, and the funding should reflect that.

    Suggesting that new roads be paid for only with tolls is unrealistic, as we have recently seen. Roads have a wide base of funding for a reason, and part of the reason is that there may be years or even decades from when a road is built until it is fully utilized. There may be real estate gains far from where the road is located that depend on the road, even if it isn’t obvious.

    Tolls only isn’t realistic and it amounts to a backhanded way of saying, no roads. Besides, the tolls will be hijacked or increased to support other projects, and then what happens to the argument that user pays? Where is the nexus then?

    You can argue on the one hand that this means the road is not cost effective, but on the other side it costs far more if you wait too long. Private enterprise can’t afford that kind of wait for their ROI, but government can, and has the obligation to take a longer view. Good long term planning is always going to make it look as if the nexus is broken, but it isn’t so if you look at things over time.

    It is the same condition with the housing doesn’t pay argument. The calculation is based on a snapshot in time, so at any given time you can say this doesn’t pay. It’s a bad argument, and weak analysis.

    I think that part of the gas tax should go into a transportation fund dedicated to assist in improving the system. Same goes with real estate taxes.

    We set our funding only for operation and maintenance, and not even enough really for that. We are not setting aside anything for future needs. Then when someone wants to tap into the system we say, hey, no infrastructure.

    I’m not saying the new guys shouldn’t pay their share of the costs, but when a town requests a proffer that consists of an entire new water or sewer system that benefits the existing residents as much as new, then something is wrong.

    The general funds SHOULD provide some funds for expansion of infrastructure in general, but that means we have to supply those funds and have a way to accumulate them. Since the government is mostly unable to invest it’s money, that is a hard thing to do.

    The transportation fund is no different. It SHOULD have at least some allocation of funds for expansion. Use those funds to close the gap that tolls can’t support.

    Transportation fund is supposed to be set aside so that it does not have to constantly compete with other needs that suddenly pop up. That is only good planning since we know in advance that roads are an ongoing government function, but we never know when we need emergency funds for tornado relief or something.

    That does not mean that we need to have a continual carte blanche for road interests.

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, you are right, new roads should not be paid for only with tolls. They should be paid for through combinations of tolls and Community Development Authority bonds. The bonds would be paid for by the property owners within the CDAs who benefit from the higher property values resulting from the new road/rail/transit improvement. CDAs represents a huge untapped source of financing.

    The beauty of this combination of revenue sources is that (a) those who use/benefit from transportation improvements are the ones who pay for them, and because of that (b) the package could be politically palatable to the public. Yes, new revenue would be injected into the system, but, no, it wouldn’t be squandered on pet projects by politicians in other peoples’ districts.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m absolutely unalterably opposed to business as usual status quo continuation of VDOT – and I don’t think I am alone – I think most of those folks who opposed the 2002 referenda were on the same wave length.


    re: Suggesting that new roads be paid for only with tolls is unrealistic, as we have recently seen.

    ONe word fellow bloggers – .. JLARC … go read their report… and the State Auditor’s report… while ur at it.

    Allocate Roads -> local, Regional, Statewide – make VDOT King of statewide – only.

    Local (only) Roads built and maintained by locals using proffers, impact fees, CDS’a, HOAs and property taxes.
    strong linkage between land-use decisions and consequences… accountability to local taxpayers for decisions

    REgional – Transportation Districts matched to MPOs – 2% gas tax.. plus Congestion Pricing

    Statewide – PPTA + GA funding of specific statewide roads – electronic tolling, inflation factor for gas tax.

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar


    It has been a long hard road, but I think we are (somtimes) (mostly) in agreement. I’d go only a little further and suggest that at least part of the cost be supplied by existing residentsthrough existing taxes. To do otherwise is to suggest that they will Never use the new roads, will Never have friends or businesses to visit there.

    I can’t see that “Stick it to the new guys” is a valid policy, especially when the new guys are our children and grandchildren.

    Considering the current immigraton policy, I really can;t see the point of “Sticking it to the newcomers”, when they are our gardeners, and nannys.

    The devil, as usual, is in the details.

  11. Ray Hyde Avatar

    OK, Larry. I think I understand your shorthand, and as a general outline, Ill accept it.

    Let me ask you, I already have a state road and an insterstate, built across what was once my propery. They have been there for thirty years, and they are still mostly unused.

    How much more should I have to pay to increase my use by one third?

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