Virginia Is for Drivers?

Locals critical of proposed HOT lanes

By Peter Orvetti
|  Monday, Jun 7, 2010  |  Updated 10:00 AM EDT
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Virginia Is for Drivers?

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Carpoolers fear proposed HOT lanes on I-95 and I-395 could slow them down.

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Tempers are getting HOT in Northern Virginia over the proposed High Occupancy Toll lanes on I-95 and I-395.

The HOT lane project would let passenger-less drivers pay a toll in order to cruise down the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes that are currently reserved for those with three or more people in a car. Virginia has already allocated $2 billion for HOT lanes for building 14 miles of the lanes on the Beltway near the Springfield Interchange, promising drivers willing to pay a premium for “a faster, more predictable trip.”

The cost of the lanes will change with the flow of traffic. Two companies, Flour and Transurban, will own the Beltway HOT lanes for their first 80 years. The price will go as high as $6 in heavy traffic, declining as demand does. The companies say lane prices will change every six minutes, with drivers paying whatever the fee was at time of entry.

While HOT lanes are an innovative way to raise revenue, some of those who use I-95 and I-395 are less than thrilled with the prospect of getting their own.

Naomi Snell of Lake Ridge, who has been active in opposing the plan, told InsideNoVa, “It's a road that we've already built as taxpayers, and it's not right that they are going to take the HOV lanes away from us and make us pay for them again.”

Snell and other critics also see safety issues. The plan calls for fitting a third lane in between two existing HOV lanes on the Dumfries-Pentagon stretch, without widening the road. That could eliminate the shoulder entirely, meaning accidents and breakdowns could bring the speedy lanes to a standstill.

For now, the project is moving about as quickly as Beltway traffic at rush hour. Flour and Transurban want to build the lanes, but they have had trouble rustling up investors.

Arlington County is also suing the state and federal governments, saying not all the necessary environmental impact studies have been performed.

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