Just because I can’t come to a quick conclusion doesn’t mean we can’t talk about how the high-occupancy toll lanes are being used — or not — and what practical issues drivers encounter. Here are some examples.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Since the day they opened, the “express” — or rather, “empty” — lanes have been virtually unused. I travel most days to Virginia, where I hear repeatedly that these lanes have become the laughingstock of the business community. Most think they will remain unused.
Your column has suggested that the opening was preceded by a year-long education campaign by the Virginia Department of Transportation and its private partners. Was this to all Americans or just locals? The Beltway is not merely a local road.
Perhaps more traffic goes along Interstate 95, but out-of-state plates are pervasive, and so is truck traffic, so it is obviously serving the western side of Maryland. Out-of-towners, those from the western and northern parts of Maryland and locals all come to a standstill in front of the confusing signs with different dollar amounts for entry.
Are the lanes actually an impediment to faster traffic? At 55 or so miles an hour, even one out-of-town or out-of-area vehicle slowing to read the signs causes a horrendous backup.
Local drivers have lamented that they have no clue where to enter or exit the lanes. Because their Global Positioning System devices still fail to recognize the new configuration, how will they find where they need to get to?
Mark my words, our new hopeless HOT lanes will remain empty. What a waste.
Hilary Fordwich, Potomac
DG: Safety issues, especially in a project this big, are extremely important. Most attention has been focused on the southern entrance to the express lanes, where some drivers have managed to miss four overhead signs advising them that the express lanes are off to the left. The VDOT made some quick adjustments, particularly with the lane markings.
Fordwich sees drivers slowing near the northern entrance. I don’t doubt it.
Traffic engineers who work on any project, from the installation of a traffic signal to the opening of a highway, tell me that it takes a while for drivers to adjust, and I think that’s what we’re seeing with the express lanes.
In these first few weeks, they’ve been pretty wide open. We don’t have traffic statistics yet from Transurban, the operator of the lanes. But based on driving the lanes, viewing the traffic cameras and watching the changing toll rates, I think more motorists are checking them out.