The Virginia Department of Transportation is considering a proposal from a private company to abandon the high-occupancy-vehicle lanes on Interstates 95 and 395 in favor of express toll lanes [Metro, Nov. 2].

In recent years, authorities have had little success in improving traffic flow, with one notable exception -- the HOV and bus lanes on I-95 and I-395 in Virginia. They have functioned well for 25 years, moving tens of thousands of people out of their cars and into buses or carpools. These lanes have even created the phenomenon called "slugging," in which drivers pick up passengers in the morning at commuter lots and in the evening around the District to qualify for the three-person requirement of the HOV lanes.

But VDOT would apparently throw this success to the wind by making the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes so popular that carpoolers would be squeezed out, even if they could use the lanes for free.

That would not be wise. What about reducing air pollution and conserving fuel? What about providing the incentive of speedier commutes through carpools or buses? What about people who can't afford the tolls? Their taxes support these toll lanes, too. Whatever private company builds and operates the toll lanes also will retain the revenue, so the tolls will not be returned to the state for further road improvement.

The Northern Virginia suburbs are affluent, and many residents may be willing to pay as much as $5 to drive alone in a toll lane -- so many, in fact, that the lanes could clog up and be little faster than the free lanes.

VDOT should look for long-term solutions to congestion that further the use of mass transit, buses and carpools. Meanwhile, it should leave the carpool and bus lanes on I-95 and I-395 alone.