HOT Networks, Converting Carpool Lanes to Toll Lanes
Five years ago, Ken Orski and I produced a Reason Foundation policy study making the case for going beyond individual high-occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes. We proposed that metro areas with congested freeway systems aim to develop seamless networks of value-priced lanes that would do double-duty as (1) a congestion-relief alternative for drivers, and (2) an uncongested guideway for region-wide express bus/BRT service. We made ballpark estimates, for the eight most-congested metro areas, of the cost (converting existing HOV lanes, adding new lanes where no HOV lanes existed, and building flyover connectors at interchanges) and of toll revenues (NY Times story on the study here). We concluded that although none of the eight networks would be completely self-supporting, the majority of the capital costs could be financed based on toll revenues. Last year at a Comptroller General's workshop on transportation infrastructure, I was pleased to learn of the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area's HOT network plan, included in their Mobility 2030 long-range transportation plan. And in July 2008, the second such HOT network was approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for the San Francisco Bay Area. The $4.8 billion project will convert 790 lane-miles of existing HOV lanes and build another 275 lane-miles of HOT lanes. This is a somewhat less ambitious plan than what Ken and I sketched out five years ago, because it leaves out several of what would be the most costly links–through Oakland on I-880 and through San Mateo, San Francisco, and southern Marin Counties on US 101. But with those limitations, the plan is projected to be self-supporting, based on modeling done by Parsons Brinckerhoff and ECONorthwest. A key feature of the plan–and one of its big selling points in the Bay Area–is extensive express bus service on the new network. Planning for comparable networks is under way in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington, DC, and Seattle–the other six metro areas that Ken and I sketched out in 2003. And while Ken and I can claim a bit of the credit for this, a lot of the credit goes to the Federal Highway Administration's Value Pricing Pilot Program and the U.S. DOT's subsequent Congestion Initiative, launched under Secretary Mineta and expanded under Secretary Peters. Without their diligent efforts over the past decade to document the results of the early California HOT lanes, provide seed-money grants for feasibility studies, and remove barriers to and provide incentives for value pricing, HOT networks might still be just a policy wonk's dream, rather than an emerging reality.