Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Green Express: Weighing in on HOT Lanes

I was quoted in yesterday's Washington Post Express on the pending HOT (high occupancy/toll) lanes coming to the Beltway and possible HOT lanes on other Virginia highways.

The issue:

ALTHOUGH CONSTRUCTION hasn't begun on Virginia's proposed high-occupancy toll lanes on I-95/395 between the Pentagon and Stafford County, there's already sticker shock as to how much it'll cost to use the special lanes, being developed by Fluor Virginia Inc. and Transurban (USA) Development Inc. — the first of what could be a regional high-occupancy toll network.

To some, they're already living up to their casual nickname: Lexus lanes. As The Post's Eric M. Weiss reported on Saturday, some toll segments might cost as much as $1.60 per mile. If you're
heading between Prince William Parkway and the Pentagon during the height of rush-hour congestion, a trip could cost as much as $22.28.

The high prices are by design, of course — that way, an influx of solo drivers won't make the HOT section as cramped as the regular roadway. The HOT lanes, which would replace existing HOV lanes on I-95/395, will still be free for buses and cars containing three or more people.

So what do you think? For today's Poll Center question, we ask: "Are the proposed tolls for I-95/395 too high?" Go vote (and comment) here and see how your fellow commuters voted station by station, line by line.
My comment:

"I have to pay every time I take Metro, with fares graduated based on how far I ride. Why shouldn't drivers have to pay every time they get on the highway, with tolls graduated based on how far they drive?"
Aside from toll roads, driving is the only method of mass transportation that doesn't charge a usage fee. Public buses, trains, and planes all charge fares. Because you don't pay per use (for all the grousing about high gas prices, gas is still a few cents a mile), most of driving involves sunk costs -- buying the car, insurance, things you have to pay for whether you use the car or not -- and at that point, you might as well use the car or else the sunk costs go to waste.

So why not charge by use? Several states and the Bush administration are looking at a mileage tax that would basically make every road a toll road, using GPS systems to charge a tax based on miles driven. A tax like that would address emissions issues and could be graduated based on rush hours like the proposed I95/395 tolls. As I've discussed before, we don't have capacity problems, we have usage problems, and I support any effort to promote carpooling or off-peak commuting.
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