These express lanes would be familiar to drivers in the D.C. region. They use all-electronic toll collection, via transponders. The lanes are free for two-person carpools at peak periods. The toll varies with the time of day. It’s higher during times when traffic is heavier. The total toll is based on the distance traveled along this 12-mile set of express lanes. The route is divided into three tolling segments. Drivers can decide to exit before entering a new segment where they would pay an additional toll.
Because the express lanes in the middle of I-10 are becoming more crowded, the Harris County Toll Road Authority is boosting the price in an attempt to get more people to carpool, or to avoid travel at the peak periods.
Their lanes are more like Maryland’s Intercounty Connector tolling system than the Capital Beltway and I-95 express lanes in Virginia. The Texas toll is based on congestion, but it’s pegged to the time of day — higher at rush hours and lower off-peak. Also, there’s a cap on the total toll paid. The Texans are bothered that the cap is rising from $7 to $10 for the whole 12-mile trip at peak periods.
Drivers who chafe at paying tolls often ask why we can’t just widen the highways with more un-tolled lanes. The Texas experience is instructive on this. Transportation reporter Dug Begley writes in this story that I-10 underwent a $2 billion widening. The freeway is 26 lanes, when frontage roads are included, he says.
Even with the increases, the toll rates on I-10 would not impress drivers in the Virginia express lanes. During the Wednesday morning rush, a driver using the entire 14 miles of the northbound 495 Express Lanes would have paid about $16.
The Intercounty Connector is the cheapie of the bunch. For the full trip of about 18 miles during the peak, it’s $4.40 with an E-ZPass. Even so, Gov. Larry Hogan is cutting that to $3.86 on July 1.
Though, the toll increase outrages Texas drivers quoted in the Chronicle story. But Lisa Castaneda, deputy director of the toll road authority, points out that tolling is a modern toll for managing traffic. Pouring more concrete just hasn’t done the trick, she told the Chronicle.
Rail service. During my online chat Monday, a commenter pointed out a May 6 story on SFGate, the San Francisco Chronicle Web site: Commuters find way home after nightmare day for BART.
Bay Area Rapid Transit is the subway system most often compared to our Metro, because they were built around the same time and share some design elements. So it was very interesting to see the riders of the two systems share many frustrations. Here’s how the SFGate story starts: “BART riders, accustomed to delays, endured an unusually trying day Wednesday when a broken rail — discovered during the heart of the morning commute — curtailed San Francisco service and caused a systemwide slowdown that lasted for more than six hours.”
That’s bound to have an eerie ring to riders on the Red, Orange, Silver and Blue lines who have gone through similar lengthy disruptions in recent months. “I think BART is starting to show its age,” said one rider quoted in the story. Meanwhile, the story says, “BART is struggling to rejuvenate and repair its aging infrastructure.”
Like Metro, BART has ordered new rail cars, but, the story says, “the system also needs a new train control system and a modern train maintenance center.”
All this is cold comfort to travelers stuck on crowded highways or waiting for delayed trains. But it does suggest that our experience isn’t out of line in the U.S. transportation system.