The closely watched high occupancy toll lanes (HOT) lanes project on I-395/95 was delayed by Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) officials on Friday. The reasons given by state leaders were 1) fear the bond market won't support funding for the private-public venture and 2) some local officials are uneasy with the proposal. Reported in the Washington Post, here.
The decision will not affect the $1.9 billion Capital Beltway HOT lanes project which is going full speed ahead.
HOT lanes are free to carpools and buses, but drivers who don't meet high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) requirements can pay tolls and travel in the HOV lanes. Variable pricing is used to keep traffic flowing during peak hours, with toll rates increasing as the lanes become more congested. Drivers who don't want to pay can use the free general purpose lanes as they can now.
The I-395/95 HOT lanes would extend south from the Pentagon to Massaponax in Spotsylvania County in Virginia, intersecting with the Beltway at the Springfield interchange. Construction was to have begun by next summer. The highway that begins in Washington as I-395 and becomes I-95 in Springfield is one of the most congested in a region and in fact is one of the most congested in the nation. The I-395/95 HOT lane plan would add a third lane to a pair of existing HOV lanes.
VDOT has faced a $2.6 billion revenue shortfall that has led to the furlough of more than 1,000 full- and part-time state transportation employees, closing of rest areas and cancelling of some projects. However, Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer said, “Unlike the nearly $2 billion in highway and transit construction projects that have been canceled in the last year, this project has a revenue source and a strong transit and HOV component, It is essential to serving the nearly 90,000 Department of Defense employees who live and work in the I-95/395 corridor. It will emerge from this process as a stronger project."
The congestion in Northern Virginia is such that this project which complements the Beltway HOT lanes project is much needed and will have to move forward in the future. With the budget issues unlikely to be resolved there will be little choice but to continue pursuing the public-private partnership arrangement when the financial markets come around right.