Is HOT Compatible with HOV?

Fluor Virginia and Transurban Development Inc. have proposed converting the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane running down Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia into a variable-pricing toll lane. The public-private partnership would collect tolls from motorists wanting a fast lane around traffic congestion but would allow carpoolers to use the lanes for free, as they do now. Sounds good in theory. But how do you tell the difference between cars with a single passenger and cars with multiple passengers?

That was the critical question asked by people attending the first public hearing on the proposal, in which Fluor-Transurban also would extend the HOT lanes 28 miles to the south and invest in Bus Rapid Transit along the corridor. Remarkably, Virginia Department of Transportation officials had no clear answer.

Reports Lillian Kafka with the Manassas Journal-Messenger:

How electronic tollbooths would differentiate between high occupancy vehicles and ones that should pay the toll is unclear. Toll booths deduct money from prepaid devices as cars pass through at constant speeds. Marsheela Hines of Dale City pressed [senior VDOT official Dennis] Morrison on the issue.

“We don’t have the right answer for that,” he said.

“This is a lynchpin issue,” said Steve Walters of Dumfries. “You can’t move forward without this technology.”

A VDOT engineer said Fluor, which operates toll roads around the world, was still working on developing that technology.

Sounds like a core issue: Will the HOT lanes enable carpoolers to ride for free or not? Fluor and VDOT had better figure out the answer.

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21 responses to “Is HOT Compatible with HOV?”

  1. rodger provo Avatar
    rodger provo

    Fredericksburg area residents
    used the I-95 HOV lanes for trips to
    Northern Virginia and into the
    District after and before the HOV
    carpool restrictions are in place –
    thus we can use the lanes after 9 am
    with only person in the car for
    such a trip. It would appear such
    persons will have to pay a toll for
    that right under the new plan that
    is the subject of this posting.

  2. Groveton Avatar

    I am sure that Flour is working hard on this technology. Here’s a very rough idea –

    1. I have been a passenger in private cars driving in Singapore. Thse cars all have the equivalent of the “EZ Pass” device in them. This device lets you drive through a traffic gantry and the antenna on the gantry reads your car’s identifier (inside the EZ Pass like device) and charges you a toll.

    2. Th ebig difference in Singapore is that the EZ Pass like device displays the amount you have been charged inside the car. So, somehow, the device can display information from the tolling authority as well as giving the tolling authority your ID so they can charge you.

    3. For HOT vs. HOV you could build two different lanes through the toll plaza. If you are a HOV vehicle you go through the HOV lane. If you are not HOV but willing to pay extra for the HOT lane you go through the HOT toll plaze lane.

    4. The EZPass like device inside you car not only displays what you are being charged (in the case of HOV – $0) but it turns on a colored light on the EZPass device facing out from the vehicle through the windshield. For example, a blue light menas that the driver went through the HOV lane at the toll plaze while a green light menas they went throgh the HOT lane at the toll plaza.

    5. Policemen sit on the side of the road (from time to time – like speed traps) and look at the color of the light vs. the number of people in the car. If you have a blue light but fewer than the HOV minimum – you are going to get a ticket. Maybe even one of those really expensive abuser fee tickets that people are now getting.

    There are a lot of questions for this approach. I mention it only as an example of a pretty simple mechanism that could possible solve the problem.

    I am quite certain that the etcnology to distinguish HOV from HOT will not be te real limiting factor in implementing these plans.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    I wonder how silly and how hard this hsa to become before someone realizes that its a stupid idea to begin with.

    First, the government charges you for the right to be certain places, and next it restricts your right entirely.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m concerned.

    This is such an obvious question and for VDOT to schedule public info sessions – without an apparent clue as to how this might be done (or be willing to say how it might be done) is ..not a good sign.

    I’m amazed actually. How HOT lanes and increased TOLLs are to be implemented are legitimate topics for the public to know and if VDOT and Fluor are going forward with public info sessions – and they leave the public with the impression that they don’t even have some suggested methods… the public is going to not be assured that there is a real plan, much less start to develop a level of confidence and trust that, I believe, is critical for any Pilot Project.

    To not do this.. almost makes me wonder if the powers that be want to see this go forward. A crippled process like this – is going to energize those opposed…

  5. Groveton Avatar

    Anon 12:06 –

    Exactly! However, it’s only those of us living in Virginia’s suburban areas who are going to be paying any tolls. The same areas that already generate far more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

    And Larry –

    I think the “powers that be” know exactly what they are doing. This is going to be foisted on us as another fait accompli. There is no discussion beacuse discussion would show what an unfair program this really is.

  6. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Easy solution for VDOT.

    Charge everyone.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I don’t expect VDOT and Fluor to be able to say without question how every aspect will work…or to make commitments that should not be made….

    HOWEVER – they SHOULD make it clear that they INTEND to LISTEN to the sluggers and the public especially with regard to what policies the sluggers/public might suggest (hint, hint.. this is how you get to a public consensus sometimes).

    The fact that they did not intend to listen is disheartening to me.

    Unfortntunately this is the VDOT that I am used to – when controversy is in the air – they tend to pull back.. and hunker down rather than actually try to find what is acceptable to the public.

    VDOT and Virginia must absolutely ensure that the interests of the public ARE served here.

    Federal Policy itself is at stake.

    If HOT lanes go down in the Washington Area – it will have nationwide impacts.

    And… NoVa would be consigned/resigned to using the bucks from their new transportation authority to build more Springfield Interchanges rather than focusing on improving the overall regional multi-modal network.


  8. Anonymous Avatar

    “rather than focusing on improving the overall regional multi-modal network.”

    We spent how much on Metro? And it improved What?

    Property values near the metro stations. Period.

    We are going to spend how much for Metro to Tysons? And the projection for improving things (other than the value of Tyson’s) is What?


    Hot lanes will relieve how much congestion for everyone not using them?


    We might well WANT to focus on improving the overall regional multi-modal network IF we can convince ourselves this is the most cost effective path to follow, but so far we have zero evidence that this is really true in the sense of most good for the most people. VDOT and Virginia must absolutely insure that the interests of the public are served here.

    Not just the sluggers pushing some agenda.

    If not having hot lanes means that NOVA is commited to spending the bucks from the transportation authority, rather than multi-modal transit, then that is merely an admission of where the HOT lane tolls will be spent (After Fluor’s cut). So much for user pays.

    It is exactly the problem that you can’t have it both ways that makes this program unfair. Unfair wouldn’t be so bad, if there was any chance the project will work as intended/advertized.

    Here is what is going to happen: for everyone else, other than those paying the tolls, it will make no difference, except that those areas that receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes, will be able to continue to do so.

    JW is right. The correct answer is to charge everyone. And, if someone is going to pay a premium, let them pay it for good service rather than paying to avoid bad service.


  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …” let them pay it for good service rather than paying to avoid bad service.”

    how would you accomplish this by charging everyone?

    If the idea is that you would charge everyone quid pro quo for “better service” – what would it have to cost – to actually provide them with “better service”?

    I would think…is your choice is more folks using HOV or more highway capacity for SOLO drivers that you’d have to charge even more than the HOT lane toll of a buck per mile… right?

    To widen ALL the lanes in the Regional Network – you’d be buying some very expensive real estate as well as building some very expensive infrastructure ala Springfield.

    At that point – wouldn’t we have to be charging folks $2 or $3 a mile to pay for the actual cost for widening I-95, I-395 and I-66?

    Do you think if the two approaches were put to the voters that they’d pick the $3 toll option?

    or is there an approach that I am not understanding very well – instead of what I’m suggesting?

  10. SWAC Girl Avatar
    SWAC Girl

    Excuse me … don’t mean to interrupt in the middle of the conversation …

    … but you’ve just been tagged, Jim. If you have time to play you are to name 8 things/habits about yourself and tag 8 more people.


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Ask this question…

    Are the HOT lanes safe?

    OR will the entrances and exits to those whiz bang HOT lanes have so many accidents that will render them and the mainline lanes useless?

    If you look closely at the design and the weaving sections, there is no way they can physically work with normal driver behavior.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    No – THIS is the question.

    What is the plan for I-95/I-395 if it is NOT .. HOT Lanes?

    Where is the money to expand/improve I-95?

    The other suggestion has been to toll all the lanes – and this is explicitly forbidden by FHWA policy and law.

    The only lanes that can be tolled are new lanes.

    If you don’t toll new lanes – where will the money come from to build them?

    Yes.. there are lots of issues but I don’t consider safety one of them unless VDOT is going to not follow accepted industry standards for safety.

    for folks who don’t like/want this option – come back with a practical (and legal) alternative.

    (“practical” means something that is not only financially feasible but politically feasible.

    For instance, proposing to raise the gas tax twenty cents on ALL Virginians so that money will be dedicated to expand I-95 in NoVa is probably not a political viable path).

    There is a reason why – we are at the HOT lane option – dozens, hundreds of transportation professionals at the Regional, State and Federal levels have sorted through most all of the options tha are available – and this is the one they chose.

    We can not like what they chose – but if we disagree .. we should at least suggest something else.

    A recent poll of Americans showed that 50% supported tolls and less than 20% supported raising the gas tax.

    Your own “mileage” might vary but most folks have become so frustrated with a lack of progress that they want to see something tangible move forward.

    Fredericksburg, Va is currently 300K people projected to double to 600K in less than 20 years.

    Many of these folks ARE going to be on I-95 Every Day and will likely double the current northbound traffic.

    My view – lead, follow, or get out of the way.

    We simply cannot afford to argue for another 20 years about what “not” to do.

    “no” voices will not move us forward.

  13. Groveton Avatar


    “A recent poll of Americans showed that 50% supported tolls and less than 20% supported raising the gas tax.”.

    I believe you but I’d like to see the specifics behind this poll. Given the amount of debate regarding HOT lanes vs. HOV lanes and the lack of data regarding prices to be charged it seems premature to consider “A recent poll of Americans …”.

    I wonder what a “recent poll of Virginians” would have indicated about abuser fees about six months ago. It seems that, with regard to abuser fees, the eating proved the pudding to be of poor quality.

    Are we facing the same issue with congestion taxes?

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    I’ll say it again: here is what is going to happen: for everyone else, other than those paying the tolls, this plan will make no difference. The reson it won;t make any differenc is all the reasons you stated.

    We are not goingh to widen ALL or even some the lanes in the Regional Network – you’d be buying some very expensive real estate as well as building some very expensive infrastructure ala Springfield.

    So the end result is still the same except that those areas that receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes, will be able to continue to do so.

    If alleviating congestion is the problem we are trying to solve, then we need to attack the source of congestion. But if maintaining an adequate level of mantenance for existing state roads is the issue, then everyone ought to contribute to that. If anything, those people that enjoy high levels of service/low usage should be the ones paying more, a la EMR’s argument. It might even be that among those enjoying high levels of service are the Metro/VRE riders.

    HOT lanes are not going to solve anything, but they will cost a few people a lot more to use. Everyone else is going to still be stuck with the same problems we have now, with no hope of relief, for the rezsons you stated: it is just too expensive.

    We should recognize that, and move on to plan B. But plan B isn’t HOT lanes.


  15. Anonymous Avatar

    If you want to see what is really driving congestion, see today’s story about a new agreement to move projected Fort Belvoir jobs to Springfield instead.


  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    For Groveton and others:

    “…In a telephone poll of 2,394 adults nationwide between Nov. 16 and Nov. 20, AAA found that 71 percent of American motorists believe it is time to pump more money into a transportation network that is not keeping pace with the nation’s population growth.

    When asked where they would get the money, by far the most popular response was tolling.

    Yup, 52 percent prefer new toll roads and new lanes. They made it clear, however, they do not favor charging a fee for driving on lanes that already exist.

    On the other hand, higher taxes would not appear to be an option.

    Just 21 percent favor boosting taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. Even fewer, 19 percent, like the idea of replacing fuel taxes with a vehicle tax based on how many miles one drives.

    Fewer still —- 15 percent —- embrace the notion of boosting nonfuel taxes, such as those on sales, income and property, to fund road projects.”

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …”with no hope of relief”

    not true.

    everyone has multiple options… including choosing to continue to drive SOLO at rush hour.

    You basically get to select what level of surface based on what you wish to pay in time and money.

    The one option that changes – is the one where there is a perceived entitlement.

    People’s taxes do NOT pay for new construction anymore.

    Fuel taxes barely cover maintenance of existing roads.

    Where do people want new construction money to come from.

    hint: check the poll

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    I think it is nice that you believe everyone has multiple options.


  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    People do have options but they themselves paint boundaries.

    For 30 years – I could have believed that I had no option but to drive solo to work but instead I chose to carpool.

    No – not every single day; some days it don’t work but a majority of the days, it works just fine.

    I could have taken a job in NoVa instead of the lower paying one that I chose to keep instead.

    I never felt like I had “no choice” but to take a job in NoVa and further to drive to that job every day SOLO.

    Perhaps I was very lucky compared to others who “have no choice” but methinks.. again.. that one has many more choices that they are sometimes willing to admit to.

    Most of us make our choices about where to live and where to work and how to get back and forth.

    No one is forcing us to one option.

    We do that ourselves.


  20. Anonymous Avatar

    I was at the meeting in prince William. The contractor has not developed the technology yet to distinguish between vehicles with hov-ers and sov-ers. It doesn’t exist! How is it possible that the proposal has gotten this far without the technology?

  21. spidermonkey Avatar

    Anybody here of the new anti-HOT online petition just started. Check it out:

    What about the legality of converting a public good (i.e., something that was derived using taxpayer monies) and converting into a good that is controlled entirely by a private consortium? Unlike building a new set of HOT lanes through the acquisition of land, which the I-95 corridor HOV-to-HOT conversion will not do, this sounds like it would be illegal for VDOT to do. Anybody have any legal insight?

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