Too many cars means that 3-person HOV lanes on I-66 are inevitable
The Interstate 66 HOT lanes system isn’t just the biggest highway project under discussion for the D.C. region. It’s also the most complicated.
So it’s good that the state of Virginia plans to hold seven public meetings this month to update people on how the plans have evolved. Big decisions are coming on the design and financing.
Below, a letter writer focuses on my description of how the Interstate 66 carpool standard will change in conjunction with the creation of high-occupancy toll lanes. Going from HOV2 to HOV3 will matter a great deal, because it will raise the bar for a free ride in the HOT lanes.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
You speak rather glibly of picking up a third commuter to ride free in HOT lanes. As one who drove a carpool on I-395 High Occupancy Vehicle lanes for many years, getting that third rider is much more difficult than getting a second.
I would suggest that the issue would be even more important for I- 66 travelers as the geographic area to coordinate between three carpoolers is potentially much larger, especially when one includes the region outside the Capital Beltway.
Keeping the requirement at HOV2 for I- 66 would be vastly preferable for a great many folks than HOV3. I believe that the potential difficulties will be so great with HOV3, and the added daily cost high for many commuters who cannot get into a carpool, that, in fact, the number of cars in the non-HOT lanes will not decrease sufficiently when and if HOT lanes go into effect.
I also note that, unlike HOV lanes, HOT lane restrictions are in place 24/7 (to make a little more money for the private developers, the public be damned).
I can’t imagine many threeperson carpools forming for offhour trips, while a parent and child, or a couple, could travel HOV2. Granted, the non-HOT lanes are not as crowded in off hours, but they can still be congested.
On another note, the development of HOT lanes in this region strikes me as an example of class warfare. The problem is congestion, and I am not convinced that HOT lanes solve that. Putting in faster lanes for people willing and able to pay, and leaving everyone else almost as bad off as before, is not the way democratic governments should operate.
Forming just about any sort of a carpool is difficult. Despite the efforts of groups such as Commuter Connections, the percentage of commuters who travel by carpool or vanpool is about 7 percent. Compare that with the nearly two-thirds who drive alone.
I’ve heard from many commuters who would like to keep HOV2 as the threshold for getting a free ride in the HOT lanes.
Even though Virginia will most probably maintain an HOV2 free-ride standard during the first few years of HOT lanes operations inside the Beltway, there will come a point when people need to start looking for that third person, or share a bus ride, or pay the toll.
“We’re not starting from scratch,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne told me. “It’s the long-stated policy that by 2020, everything will be HOV3 in Northern Virginia.”
There are just too many cars. Virginia, like other states with HOV systems, has an obligation to the federal government on this. The states must protect the average travel times, with or without tolling.
So why allow people who aren’t carpooling to buy their way into the HOV lanes by converting them to HOT lanes?
The state’s idea is that it is going to use money raised through tolls to pay for the infrastructure that will make it easier for people to form carpools or board buses, leaving their own cars behind. In fact, the state hopes to open up enough travel space on the redesigned I- 66 to draw commuters away from some of the secondary routes nearby that can’t handle the traffic.
I’m giving you the short version here. Write in with more questions and comments, and question the state officials at these meetings.
On the plan for inside the Beltway: Monday at the VDOT Northern Virginia District Office, 4975 Alliance Dr., Fairfax; Tuesday at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School cafeteria, 7130 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; Wednesday at Washington-Lee High School cafeteria, 1301 N. Stafford St., Arlington; Oct. 15 at Farmwell Station Middle School cafeteria, 44281 Gloucester Pkwy., Ashburn. All these forums are 7 to 9 p.m.
On the outside the Beltway plan: Oct. 19 at Oakton High School, 2900 Sutton Rd., Vienna; Oct. 20 at the VDOT Northern Virginia District Office; Oct. 21 at Piney Branch Elementary School, 8301 Linton Hall Rd., Bristow. All are 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.