Monday, June 17, 2013

High Occupancy Toll Lanes: Productive utilization means moving more people, not cars

There have been many news reports that high occupancy toll lanes throughout the country, namely the  I-495 Express Lanes in Washington DC and Metro ExpressLanes in Los Angeles have been "underutilized" due to vehicle and revenue shortfalls.

Most, if not all, toll lane corridors carry the most vehicles during peak congestion hours. They are often wide open at other times. Without congestion, toll-paying non high occupancy motorists generally have little incentive to use the toll lanes. However, HOT lanes should not be written off just because they don't carry many cars; here's why. Most HOT lane corridors in the nation allow 2+ or 3+ HOV's toll free travel, many of which allow for free non-transponder carpooling. The question is: How many people are moving through the corridor versus vehicles in comparision to the general purpose lanes?

Concept of I-15 facing north near Interstate 10Take a close look at the conceptual graphic to right showing a free flowing I-15 freeway in between the I-10 and SR-60 interchange. The general purpose lanes are carrying at least a dozen vehicles. The conceptual HOT lanes are carrying only 3. Suppose the 12 cars in the regular lanes carried an average of 1.5 passengers. That would mean 18 people traveling. In contrast, the illustrated Megabus in the toll lanes is carrying 50 passengers, the airport shuttle is hauling a family of four, and a single CHP motorcycle officer conducts enforcement. In this example, the HOT lanes are not generating any revenue; however the lanes are moving 55 people in contrast to 18 in the general purpose lanes. If the corridor can move more people per hour with the HOT lanes, under no means are the high occupancy lanes underutilized even though fewer cars are using it.

Public agencies from both the local and state level must understand that proposed high occupancy toll lanes in the Inland Empire should not be public money fountains. HOT lanes should be designed to move more people, not cars. Any revenue collected from non-HOV's should be used to pay for corridor operations which includes mass transit and basic capital improvements. However, the state must also be held accountable for its actions and ensure state transportation and gas tax funding is also making it to the transportation corridor as it should. Under no circumstances should county entities like RCTC be bound to massive debt obligations for highway capacity improvements which should otherwise by state-funded.

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