HOT lanes used to be a tough sell in the DC area. AAA called them “Lexus lanes,” a former Maryland governor cancelled the region’s only HOT lanes study and Virginia just wasn’t interested. Things have changed, and changed quickly: [In] the past six months, the idea of high-occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes has gained traction faster than almost any other traffic congestion-fighting measure. The details of how to create them — and how to spend the toll money — still stir debate. However, with money tight and traffic growing worse, HOT lanes are now widely viewed as one of the most feasible, affordable ways to better manage, if not ease, traffic congestion in the short term while generating money for long-term relief. “We are out of money in our transportation trust funds throughout our region,” said Lon Anderson, spokesman for the Mid-Atlantic AAA and one of the most vocal critics of HOT lanes just a year ago. “There’s no money to make the wholesale changes many would like to see. HOT lanes offer that opportunity.” Maryland has renewed its studies of HOT lanes on six highways, including its portion of the Capital Beltway, Interstate 270 in Montgomery County and Route 50 in Prince George’s County. The Virginia Department of Transportation is considering the idea as a way to pay for widening the Beltway through Northern Virginia in addition to adding and extending carpool lanes on I-95 between Springfield and Fredericksburg. At a regional conference on HOT lanes in June, politicians and traffic planners were practically giddy about what many called their only financial hope of making major road or transit improvements.