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Money Spent vs. Time Saved Debated for HOT Lanes

Most of the project's revenues will be made during the morning and evening rush periods, officials said. Off-peak tolls could be as little as 14 cents a mile. And carpools of three or more and transit vehicles would ride free.

On a similar toll road in Southern California, the mean number of one-way trips per customer per week is 2 1/2 , according to Joel Zlotnik, media relations manager for the Orange County Transportation Authority. "Most of our customers are not daily users," Zlotnik said. "They'll use it when they are most pressed for time."

Several Beltway commuters interviewed recently said that they were surprised at the projected tolls and that they, too, would use the lanes selectively.

"If a client was waiting for me, yes," said Sharon Newton, a real estate agent from Gainesville. "But if I was late for a settlement, I would just call and say I'm running behind."

Consultant Ben Lek said he would not use the lanes, even though it regularly takes him 30 minutes to an hour to travel six miles during his evening Beltway commute.

"I'm personally more patient than most people," he said. "Whatever. I can deal with it."

But then he thought about missing martial arts class, for which he paid $150.

"Well, maybe, if I was going to be really late," he said.

Lek's co-worker, Steven O'Dwyer, said his time is not worth much.

"I'm not making enough to worry about that yet," he said with a laugh.

Karen Robins said there have been times when she gladly would have paid for a helicopter to lift her out of Beltway traffic. But she was hesitant about paying to use the HOT lanes, which, even with tolls at their highest rate, would surely be cheaper than a helicopter.

"It depends," the Chevy Chase teacher said. "Maybe if I'm really hungry and tired."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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