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Steep Prices Projected for HOT Lanes

Management of the Dulles Toll Road was recently transferred from the state of Virginia to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which plans to raise tolls regularly to pay for an extension of Metro's Orange Line to Tysons Corner and Dulles Airport.

Financial projections indicate that under the authority's agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation, the average toll would triple by 2030, the authority said. There is no cap on future tolls, though, and the authority can raise them on its own.

Those tolls are small change compared with what drivers could pay on HOT lanes planned for the Beltway and I-395 and I-95.

"HOT lanes are different things," said Robert W. Poole Jr., director of transportation studies for the Reason Foundation and an early proponent of HOT lanes. "The main, important purpose of toll pricing is to manage the traffic flow so they can deliver what they are promising to customers: a congestion-free ride."

Poole added that the toll rates on the I-95/395 project "would definitely be the highest anyone has ever seen."

The highway with the highest toll rate per mile is currently California's SR-91, which has a peak rate of $9.25 for a 10-mile ride.

Yesterday, VDOT filed the Fluor-Transurban proposal with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' Transportation Planning Board. The plan calls for construction to begin next year and for the lanes to open for service in 2010. It includes $390 million in additional transit services and envisions six new park-and-ride facilities with a total of 3,000 spaces.

The proposal would have to be approved by the COG planning board, made up of state and local officials from Virginia, Maryland and the District.

Ronald F. Kirby, director of transportation planning for COG and the author of the analysis of projected toll rates, said tolls for the I-95 and I-395 HOT lanes would have to be set high because of all the bottlenecks on I-95. He added that high tolls aren't all bad because they will encourage people to carpool.

But if Washington area drivers want to be sure of getting somewhere on time, Kirby said, they had "better figure on paying better than 30 bucks."

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