Since the beginning of the debate over high-occupancy (HOT) toll lanes, AAA Mid-Atlantic has expressed strong concern that "Lexus lanes" would create a two-tier system of public roads where the "rich can roll while the poor will poke."

The continuing nightmare of gridlock, however, has caused us to reluctantly modify our position, even though according to the June 20 front-page article "Lessons of Calif.'s Toll Lanes; Appeal and Hazards Offer Glimpse of Va. Beltway to Come," tolls for the 56-mile trip on the HOT lanes of Interstates 95 and 395 could rise to almost $30 by 2030.

HOT lane proponents argue that the pay lanes do not create economic discrimination, but the article refuted this while noting that charging high tolls is necessary to keep traffic on the lanes rolling. With HOT tolls predicted to rival today's gas prices, how can they not cause economic discrimination?

AAA Mid-Atlantic has changed its stance on HOT lanes because the Washington area's gridlock -- nearly the worst in the nation -- requires action, and they appear to be the only game in town for adding capacity. However, we still worry that HOT lanes will create a two-tier public transportation system based on ability to pay. This issue requires further airing before HOT lanes get the final green light.

MAHLON G. "LON" ANDERSON

Director, Public and Government Affairs

AAA Mid-Atlantic

Washington