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Virginia Delays I-395/95 HOT Lane Project

The decision to delay I-395/95 HOT lanes does not affect work on HOT lanes now being added to the Capital Beltway, Virginia officials said. Two HOT lanes are being built in each direction along a 14-mile stretch of the Beltway.
The decision to delay I-395/95 HOT lanes does not affect work on HOT lanes now being added to the Capital Beltway, Virginia officials said. Two HOT lanes are being built in each direction along a 14-mile stretch of the Beltway. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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By Anita Kumar and Ashley Halsey III
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Plans to expand the ambitious HOT lanes project to ease traffic congestion in Virginia will be delayed because state leaders fear the bond market won't support funding for the private-public venture and some local officials are uneasy with the proposal.

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The decision will affect the high-occupancy toll lanes that were to be built on interstates 395 and 95, but not those under construction on the Capital Beltway.

"Basically, what we are doing is taking a deep breath and reassessing the situation," said Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D).

Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) said he was disappointed by the decision but not surprised, given the economic downturn. He said he had hopes the private-public project would go forward because the state doesn't have money of its own to spend.

"Pulling the plug on a project of this magnitude is a mistake," McKay said.

HOT lanes are free to carpools and buses, but drivers who don't meet high-occupancy vehicle requirements are supposed to pay tolls. Variable pricing is used to keep traffic flowing during peak hours, with toll rates increasing as the lanes become more congested. Drivers who don't want to pay can use the free non-HOT lanes.

The HOT lane project on the Beltway has been funded under an unusual partnership between the state and a consortium called Fluor-Transurban.

Fluor is an international construction company, and the Transurban Group operates toll roads in Australia. Officials of Fluor and Transurban had been negotiating a funding package for the expansion with the state, and the total cost of the project had not been determined.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer informed the two companies Friday of the postponement decision, saying in a letter that borrowing money for the project in recession-racked financial markets was a daunting challenge. Spokesmen for the two firms were not immediately available to comment Monday.

Although Homer did not say when the proposal might be revived, he said the plan had been delayed but not abandoned. "We're going to continue to develop this project in concert with the regional transit providers and the affected localities," he said.

Construction will continue on the $1.9 billion Beltway HOT lanes. That project will provide two express lanes in each direction along a 14-mile stretch from just north of the Dulles Toll Road to the Springfield interchange.

The I-395/95 HOT lanes would extend south from the Pentagon to Massaponax in Spotsylvania County, intersecting with the Beltway at the Springfield interchange. Construction was to have begun by next summer.


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