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Don’t expect a panacea

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.

November 20th, 2012 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bus, events, roads/cars, transportation

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

    Are carpool users required to pay for a transponder?

    • Thelonious_Nick

      Yes. The transponder apparently has a switch so you can switch between toll/carpool mode.

  • http://twitter.com/beyonddc BeyondDC

    My understanding is that they are. To use the HOT lanes as an HOV user, you need an “EZpass Flex”, which is a new kind of special EZpass that has a switch you can set to either “HOV mode” or “toll mode”. There may be some kind of discount for existing EZpass users to upgrade, but I’m not sure. You can find out more at http://www.ezpassva.com/EZPages/EZPassFlex.aspx

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

    So essential, casual carpooling has been banned?

    • http://twitter.com/beyonddc BeyondDC

      No, this will make it easier to slug. There weren’t any HOV lanes on the Beltway before, so not very many people going to Tysons slugged. Now they’ll have a good reason to. The driver will just need one of the new “Flex” transponders.

      • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

        Slugging isnt exactly casual.nnI mean if I get 6 friends, and we get in a van that we never use (because we take metro) we cant use the lanes. Our reward for driving as little as possible is the slow lane, as were barred from the carpool lane.

        • http://twitter.com/beyonddc BeyondDC

          Oh, I see what you mean. In some other cities they call slugging “casual carpooling,” so I thought that’s what you were talking about. nnYes, if you don’t plan ahead and have the correct transponder then you will not be able to use the lanes.

          • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

            I would say its more than planning ahead. If theres a fee for the transponder, and you only drive every other month (again, being super eco friendly here) then even with advance planning it makes no sense to have a transponder. nnThese lanes incentivize driving, and reward frequent drivers.

          • commuter

            Actually if you get an ez pass flex and use it for ONLY hov travel then you are not charged the $1 monthly fee for the pass…so it does incentvize in that regard. Just a heads up..i have been using the lanes from time to time but they are expensive so only use them when.i really need to…so far so good



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