HOT Lanes Good Idea for Houston

HOT lanes beat HOV for sustainable congestion relief

Letter to the Editor at the Houston Chronicle

Converting HOV lanes to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes (“Will HOT idea lead to smoother traffic?,” July 30) is a sensible proposal that would benefit all Houston commuters.

HOV lanes are not relieving congestion. Originally intended to reward solo drivers that switch to carpooling with a faster trip, research has shown that up to 80% of today’s “carpools” actually consist of family members who would be riding together anyway, so HOV lanes have done little to reduce the number of cars on the road. Also, HOV lanes in rapidly growing metro areas like Houston tend to become congested over time and lose their time-saving advantage.

Pricing is the only known way to maintain free-flowing lanes, which is why many transportation experts conclude that HOT lanes offer sustainable, long-term congestion relief that HOV lanes can’t match. Unlike regular freeway lanes and many HOV lanes, HOT lanes won’t become clogged over time because road managers can change the price to ensure congestion-free travel. Because they’re free-flowing, HOT lanes move a lot more people than congested freeway lanes. For example, the HOT lanes in Orange County, Calif. account for one-third of the highway’s lanes but carry half of all rush-hour traffic.

Cities like San Diego, Denver, and Minneapolis are already benefiting from HOT lanes, and others like Dallas, Miami, and San Francisco are planning new HOT lanes in the near future. If we want to expand mobility in Houston, we should be following suit.