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Two Big Transportation Proposals

This week's transportation news likely will be dominated by the road and transit plans unveiled this weekend:

-- Metro board members on Thursday will begin considering a fare increase plan for early next year developed by General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. (See story in Saturday's Post by Lena H. Sun.)

-- Virginia announces today that it has an agreement to start building express toll lanes along the western side of the Capital Beltway between Springfield and the Potomac River. (See story in today's Post by Karin Brulliard.)

Sun, who covers transit issues, and Eric Weiss, who covers road issues for The Post, can take questions about these plans during their Live Online discussion at 11 a.m. today.

On Saturday, Sun reported that the cost of a transit ride would increase an average of 45 cents early next year as Metro sought to close a shortfall of $173 million anticipated in the 2009 budget while easing crowding on trains and buses.

The fare increase the board will be asked to consider would take effect halfway through the current fiscal year, which would be an unusual step for Metro.

Catoe did an online chat Friday on Metro's Web site. He did not reveal what he would say to the board on Thursday, but did seek to justify the fare increase idea:

"First, since 1995 Metro has increased fares about 14% for Metrobus, and 23% for Metrorail. During that time the general inflation rate has been close to 37%, and the actual costs of fuel have gone up over 300% and the costs for things like health insurance for employees have gone up at least 80%. These costs weren't passed on to customers. Last year to avoid a fare increase, we went through a very difficult reduction in force, to make sure that we were as lean as we could be before asking for a fare increase."

Today, Brulliard reported on Virginia's deal with Transurban and Fluor Enterprises to build, operate and maintain the express toll lanes for 80 years, including the five years of construction starting next year. Carpoolers would be able to use the new lanes for free, which is while they're popularly called HOT lanes, for high occupancy or toll.

This timetable would seem to push the Beltway HOT lane plan out ahead of the one to bring HOT lanes to the I-95/395 corridor between Woodbridge and the 14th Street Bridge. The latter plan was the one dominating debate until now. It's less of a construction job because it takes over the existing two carpool lanes while adding one more lane. (The Beltway plan adds two lanes in each direction.)

Opposition to the I-95/395 plan has been strong among sluggers, who fear that it threatens the highly successful carpooling system that they created in that corridor. No similar system exists along the Beltway portion. But there stil should be plenty of questions about the impact of adding four lanes, with nine interchanges. The tolls will be imposed on the two left lanes in each direction, though they'll be free for vehicles with three or more people.

Carpoolers have been very curious to find out how such a system will be monitored to avoid cheating. How does an electronic monitoring system distinguish between a toll-payer equipped with an E-ZPass type transmitter, a car with three people and a cheater? Other questions arise in this case about the traffic impact on Tysons, which will likely be the scene of rail line construction and commercial and residential construction during the same time period.

Here's a link to some updated information about the plan on the Virginia Department of Transportation Web site.

By Robert Thomson  |  September 10, 2007; 7:45 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Maybe if metro ran more 8-car trains and run them more often, more people would ride the metro.

I used to Metro, but I drive now because I'm sick of the "Orange Crush".

Posted by: Bob | September 10, 2007 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I am already paying almost $12 a day to ride metro. If they increase the parking on top of the fares (which had also been suggested) then metro tips the scale to being more expensive than driving. I really don't want to go back to driving and dealing with the traffic but that extra couple dollars a day adds up over the year!

On top of that you have the decreasing quality of service. I can't tell you how many times I have been stuck on metro this summer. It seems that every time there is a problem they don't let you know until the last possible moment. Case in point...the Bethesda fiasco last week. When I left work it was only stopped in one direction. When I got to metro center to change trains it still said the same thing but sure enough 20 mins later I was being offloaded to non-existant shuttle buses (they had been "requested")!

Posted by: Craig | September 10, 2007 9:49 AM | Report abuse

has ANYONE addressed the question of how HOT will properly detect toll payers, carpoolers and cheaters? Or are they just plowing ahead anyway? (counting the cha-ching cha-ching as they go)

Posted by: jj | September 10, 2007 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Metro fare increases seem reasonable, given that everything else costs more.

But why do they insist on waiting so long between increases, so that it's a real slap in the face? Why not increase each year or 18 months by 5-25c instead of these less frequent, big increases?

Posted by: ah | September 10, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Way too many questions remain about HOT lanes, and it is clear that Virginia has said to hell with actually answering them before plowing ahead.

There is no clear sense of how cars will be determined to be HOV or paying their way. In most other HOT systems, there are very few, if not just one, points of entry, so it is easy to tell the difference. With so many entry and exit points, how will every single one be monitored? I can just imagine the nightmares of drivers who have been falsely charged, having to wade thru bureaucracy to get their money back. The entire system seems predicated on the idea that this is an extra way to scam money, or that Virginia police will patrol the entrances, placing a ridiculous burden on them when they can't handle the HOV lane patrolling as it is.

What a nightmare. I cannot believe that we are being suckered into this.

Posted by: DC Mike | September 10, 2007 10:36 AM | Report abuse

DC Mike - I completely agree, and you made me wonder about something else - no matter what the method of patrolling HOT usage, it seems like any method would just cause congestion and delays, which in turn would negate any relief these lanes are supposed to provide. Has anyone addressed that?

Posted by: jj | September 10, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I may have already asked this before, but if the bottlenecks on the beltway in VA are all in MD (American Legion brdige & the 270 split where it drops to 2 lanes), what is the point of making it faster to get there?

Posted by: JS | September 10, 2007 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Agreed, JS. Scary to think that closing just an entrance / exit ramp for a few months (on Legion bridge) could cause such chaos (not even a through lane!!) but it did. Now, the plan is to funnel more traffic to this point and just stop? Bob, please find out who in the MD administration is responsible and press them for an answer. Many of their constituents work in VA - and the businesses MD needs have employees in VA - the state should understand that they are going to really screw tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people a day.

Posted by: Steven | September 10, 2007 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Make your comments known to VA at least:

Posted by: Steven | September 10, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I submitted this question on the "Roads and Rails" chat today but they didn't answer it. The article in today's paper says that the Beltway HOT project will include "HOV lanes through the Springfield Interchange." I'm wondering what that means. Does it mean that the deferred Phase VIII of the Springfield Interchange project, which consists of direct ramps between the Shirley Highway express lanes and the Beltway, will now be built? If so, then the result of that is a good thing (eliminates the need to hop out of the express lanes in advance).

Of course, it means that the just-finished Springfield construction will start back up again.....hee hee hee.....

Posted by: Rich | September 10, 2007 3:23 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Yes, Rich, Phase 8 of the Springfield interchange will get built as part of the Beltway HOT lanes project.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | September 10, 2007 6:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm also very curious about the system that will determine if you pay on the HOT lanes or not. Is there a comparable model from the cities that already use HOT lanes? Where are the details for this project which is already getting the fast track? I'm really curious.

Posted by: Tim | September 11, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

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