The Beltway HOT lanes are officially open and in action. I went out yesterday afternoon to take a quick look, although I still haven’t driven on them.
I-495 HOT lanes, at Lee Highway.
In this picture you’re looking north along I-495 from the US-29 overpass, in Merrifield. The metallic contraption hanging over the highway in the center of the image is the toll gantry, which reads EZpass signals from passing cars below. You must have an EZpass to use the lanes.
There is exactly 1 car visible using the HOT lanes in either direction, although the picture wasn’t taken during rush hour.
It will be especially interesting to see if these new express lanes help a transit culture develop in Tysons Corner. Tysons has more office space than downtown Baltimore, so there’s plenty of potential market. Buses will use the lanes on routes coming from Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties, and will undoubtedly have a better trip than they would in the general purpose lanes. But with a private company that hopes to maximize toll revenue in charge of the lanes, one wonders how well buses will be treated.
One thing is totally clear: There will still be traffic jams on the Beltway. HOT lanes will allow some drivers and transit users to bypass congestion, but if there aren’t traffic jams then no one would pay to use the HOT lanes, so the road’s owners wouldn’t make any money. The concept requires continued congestion in the general purpose lanes in order to work.
These things give people more options, so that’s good, but they won’t end congestion on the Beltway.