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New Meaning for HOT Lanes

The slugs who cram into cars each day so they can travel up and down I-95/395 in the HOV lanes have been wondering about -- well, more like aggressively questioning -- the idea that there's some way technology can preserve their commuting system once those lanes are converted to HOT lanes.

HOT lanes are for high-occupancy or toll commuters. So instead of three types of users to regulate (carpoolers and cheaters), there will be three: carpoolers, cheaters and toll payers. Because the whole idea is to keep those lanes moving at speed, the regulating will have to be done electronically.

Ken Daley, vice president of the company that is part of the public-private partnership planning the HOT lanes project on I-95/395 and on the Beltway, says he's sure it can be done. He describes how in a story in today's Post by Michael Laris.

Cars will be scanned with infrared sensors capable -- usually -- of detecting how many people are inside. The results would have to be visible on devices inside state police cars, so that cheaters could be pulled over. The unit would have to tell the trooper whether a passing car has paid the electronic toll and if not, whether the car contains at least three people. Transponders would have on-off switches, so that a driver who's paying the toll one day could carpool the next.

Will the technology work? Let's hope the carpoolers are hot enough. There can't be any loophole in this deal that will allow the private operators of the toll road to back out of the agreement to let carpoolers in for free. And I'm not crazy about the idea of using Virginia state police to enforce revenue collection for a private company.

What do you think? We can talk about it here and also during an online chat today at 1 p.m. During the live Discussion, we could also talk about Metro's latest plans for a fare increase, described in a Post story by Lena H. Sun. City dwellers and suburbanites are likely to have different views of the plans.

You might also be interested in Katherine Shaver's story in Sunday's Post about the legal challenge to the intercounty connector highway. The future of the highway hangs on whether the federal government properly followed national environmental policy in signing off on it.

[Here's a link that allows you to submit a question or comment for the Discussion now, but do join us at 1 p.m.]

By Robert Thomson  |  October 1, 2007; 7:26 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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Next: Saturday Not Kind to Travelers


Charging means there will be no incentive to lessen the congestion for the other lanes because to do so would mean a decrease in revenue.

This is a bad idea for us.

Posted by: Emily | October 1, 2007 10:58 AM | Report abuse

For years we were trying to reduce the SOV (single occupied vehicle)and promote mass transit or car and van pooling. Now we say, if you got money, you can drive by yourself,in your oversized air polluting car and go anywhere. Plus the Virginia taxpayer will pay for a new road they probaby can't afford to take.

Posted by: Kevin | October 1, 2007 11:17 AM | Report abuse

yeah, this is just going to decrease the need to carpool.

Posted by: greg | October 1, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Absolutely not. The delineation between public and private is getting a little too thin for me. Having state police enforcing collections for a private toll road is definitely out there. I am also angry with the state because the record revenue from tax assessments should have gone to infrastructure, but seems to have vanished into oblivion. What did they spend the money on? Unfortunately Virginia is suffering from its size. Maryland has excellent infrastructure, primarily due to the fact that major cities are only ~40 miles from each other, while Virginia is double that, so there is a much higher cost to benefit for the Commonwealth. Ultimately much of this problem is resolved by people living closer to where they work. I was just out in Culpeper the other day and houses were stacked up on each other like I was in DC, so it wasn't land people were after. To live 80 miles from work doesn't make sense, just to get a marginally cheaper house. Is it only in DC that such a large percentage of people live so far from the city center? When I really think about it, Virginia is doing the right thing. If you want to live far away and have a good commute, you have to pay for it. Now should operation of that be under the complete control of the diabolically sinister private sector, I am not too sure about that.

Posted by: Sivad | October 1, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Bad idea, period. The state / taxpayers are paying for a road that will generate revenue for a private company? That is insane. Furthermore, it only encourages those who have money to burn, to take those lanes, and those lanes will likely not be any faster for travelling in a fairly short period. I have lived here all of my 36 years, and just when you think they can not come up with any worse ideas for this area, another terrible idea that improves nothing, comes along. Simply amazing.

Terrible idea, and I hope it gets shot down.

Posted by: KJ | October 2, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

This talk of plans to use infra red scanners just further convinces me that VDOT has absolutely no idea how they are going to manage enforcement, especially on the highly used 95 HOT lane.

For every cheater they pull over, they will pull over and inconvenience 3 carpools.

I really think they would open themselves up to lawsuits related to issues such as privacy, and racial discrimination. Racial issues could emerge if the technology cannot be shown to be race neutral.

Posted by: RH Woodbridge | October 2, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse

The question from this is where are they going to pull people over. They are planning on putting 3 lanes with very little shoulder room (probably just enough room for emergencies at best). That leaves a minimal number of points for officers to enforce the HOV users. If they try to use license plate photos in conjunction with the sensors, I can't see how that will hold up in court as their would be no proof of guilt. Once it gets out that they can't enforce or prosecute on the HOT lanes it will be full of cheaters and either will have to go to tolls for everyone (I believe the Feds would have to approve this) or the state will get stuck with the road again.

Posted by: Z | October 2, 2007 4:27 PM | Report abuse

This sounds like a good reason to get a second dog...three heat signatures = free use of the HOT lane :-)

Posted by: Scott | October 3, 2007 1:54 AM | Report abuse

Well, NOVA residents, including the slugs, don't complain. You did this to yourselves.

You allowed your officials to let developers build willy-nilly while you let NIMBY's and road opponents of every stripe block the construction of the necessary road infrastructure.

You sat back and let the Commonwealth build excess highway capacity in Richmond and Tidewater while you got nothing but HOV-for-a-few, the privately-owned Greenway toll road, and 2 county "parkways" with traffic lights as close as a few hundred feet apart.

You blew your chance to raise your own transportation money when you allowed environmentalists who didn't live here and anti-tax zealots to con you into voting it down.

Now you're financing a developer's dream - a $5.2 billion rail line (that won't relieve traffic congestion) and carte blanche building rights along its route.

Enjoy your HOT lanes and your rail to Dulles. It's all you're going to get for a very long time

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