Second and no less important: How successful have HOT lanes been elsewhere?
Can the HOT proponents cite examples where HOT lanes alleviated traffic congestion, decreased travel time or made any substantial contribution to efficient high-volume traffic management?
Chris Soto, Woodbridge
DG: Decisions about how interstate highways will be used are made by state legislatures, governors and members of Congress — Americans all. The people we have chosen to represent us don’t want to make investments serious enough to maintain the U.S. transportation system, let alone modernize it.
Americans continue to think of the gas tax as an appropriate way to finance highway maintenance and construction. Yet they resist increases in the gas tax. Virginia, for its part, hasn’t raised the state gas tax in a quarter-century. Steel, asphalt, concrete and labor cost a bit more now.
So are we going to stand on principle and say that we’ve already paid to build and maintain the highway system, despite our growing concerns about traffic congestion?
In this winter’s legislative session, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the General Assembly provided the most recent evidence of our collective decision not to throw any more serious money at the transportation system.
Meanwhile, what are politicians to do with voters who are upset that it takes so long to get anywhere?
If the states and Congress could finance serious transit improvements without serious investment — if they could make their voters happy as commuters without making them sad as taxpayers — they would have figured it out by now.
Caught in a bind, they’re attracted to this third way of tolling and traffic management on a few highways. It’s not an overall attack on traffic congestion, but it could help in some corridors. (I’m cynical about the political motives but hopeful about the results for travelers.)
I wrote recently about a Government Accountability Office study of HOT lane (also called Express Lane) operations across the nation [Commuter page, Feb. 12]. The report shows that the tolled lanes can be effective at providing more capacity while managing traffic so that drivers get a more reliable trip. They can even help the performance in the untolled lanes.
But it’s not a slam-dunk case: Local leaders as well as federal officials need to monitor whether this tolling concept blooms where it’s planted. Is the traffic flowing more freely because of tolling and traffic management or just because there are extra lanes? Do the HOT lanes move more people or just more cars? Will tolling policies put a priority on moving people or on paying off the road’s bondholders?