Friday Question of the Day – Should the District Create HOT Lanes and Carpool Lanes?

Photo by PoPville flickr user DCin3MP

Earlier in the week the Washington Post reported:

“District officials are considering creating carpool and toll lanes on part of the 14th Street bridge and other stretches of city highway as early as next year, offering motorists with means a way of speeding their commute and pushing the nation’s capital into the debate over the costs and benefits of “congestion pricing.” The High Occupancy Toll, or HOT, lanes would be free for cars carrying at least three people, according to a District planning study.”

CBS local reported: “The cost would be around $8 million.”

Think it’s a good idea? Besides the 14th Street bridge where else do you think it should be considered?

56 Comment

  • Well I would love to tax income at its source like every other state can. But as long as our congressional overlords keep saying we can’t do it, we have to tax in other ways. Like this. So I support it whole heartedly. And the $25 per employee surtax. And speed cameras along the highways into the city.

  • Yes. Toll all of the bridges, to better manage traffic flow and generate revenue for their upkeep. DC pays to maintain several bridges to Virginia, but sees very little tax revenue from Virginians.

    • But the toll would only apply to one lane in this case, not the whole bridge.

      • One is better than none.

      • Well, the other way around: it would apply to the other lanes NOT using the HOT lane. Still not all lanes or all cars, but that’s also kind of the point.

        In addition to paying for bridge upkeep, we in DC have to pay for road upkeep. Road wear is a function of (among other things) the number of vehicles. Taxing all those single-occupant cars simultaneously helps pay for the road wear, and also creates an incentive for all those Virginians to pool together and just drive fewer cars into the city.

        There are, in my mind, two ways for this to work at maximum efficiency: (1) all cars remain single-occupant, and we get to tax every fucking Virginian that crosses a bridge and end up with great roads, or (2) we get no tax revenue — but also a lot less road wear — because all Virginia Drivers/passengers used the HOT lanes.

        See also: bag tax.

        • Apologies — didn’t read the toll structure right. Still support this, but would also support putting a toll on every lane.

        • False. The HOT lanes are High-Occupancy Toll lanes. If they are similar to the lanes on 495, you use your EasyPass transponder to signify whether you are single/double occupant or carpooling. IF you’re carpooling, your transponder signals that to the toll readers and to the police. You don’t pay the toll. If you’re a single driver, you can use that same lane, but you have to pay a dynamic toll rate.

  • Only if district residents can use them for free.

  • I would hate it since I use it every day working in Arlington. DC Has a major tax SURPLUS why are they always looking for ways to take more from me? There is no major project in DC that Congress won’t help with funding if needed, just takes a little guilting. Only way I am cool with this is if DC Residents get a free pass. They should only tax MD and VA tags in DC that goes for parking tickets too lol

  • justinbc

    As long as it’s managed and operated by DC, so that we keep all the income, rather than being pawned off to the private sector, then I’m OK with it. I never take this route, so I really wouldn’t affect me at all.

  • No. Absolutely not. The District of Columbia is for everyone. Why do those who can pay get special access privilege to enter our nation’s capital? That is flat out wrong, undemocratic, and un-American. Despite the efforts for the District to have self-governance in all areas (which I support generally), it is not a state, and is unique in that it is the federal city, the capital of our nation. It’s either all access or a choice for economic discrimination, something that shouldn’t be considered. I hope Congress slaps this idea back to the pyre of the back burner for real.

    • Once again, it’s only one lane.

      • gotryit

        +1 I can’t get excited about pulling some additional $$ from people who are in a hurry and are willing to pay extra. Also, it will encourage ride-sharing, which could help reduce traffic a little.
        We can all still get in and out of the city for free.

        • In other cities, the free routes get hopelessly clogged. Canal Street in lower Manhattan, for example.

          It’s not just the fee, it’s the means to pay the extra fee. A lot of DC folks don’t have EZ Pass, or even credit cards, frankly.

          It’s a good concept to study, though, and see what the tradeoffs are.

          • So the solution is to keep the ENTIRE thing hopelessly clogged? I dunno if you drive over that bridge, but it’s a hot mess at rush hour in its current state. Let’s at least have ONE free-flowing lane, and if it costs money to use it, so be it.

    • Un-tolled access to the District of Columbia would continue under this proposal. There would be no special toll if you took public transportation, walked, biked, drove in another way, or chose a non-HOT lane over the 14th street bridge. What this would do is better manage a public resource which is over-utilized and has become congested. The “Free access to the nations capital” is a smokescreen because you don’t want to pay the cost of the congestion from your commuting.

      • +1. It’s not about some “right” to come into DC for free. It’s about the thousands of single-occupancy vehicles that come in from VA to work in DC. Single-occupancy vehicles are not sustainable and I support efforts to curb that mode of commuting and promote carpooling and public transportation. Also agree that tolling all non-HOV vehicles would be best, but this is a start.

    • You know what else is flat out wrong, undemocratic, and un-American? The fact that thousands of DC residents pay federal taxes and have absolutely NO representation in Congress. Putting toll lanes on a bridge that is insanely congested is not about a “special access privilege” to enter DC, it’s about promoting carpooling and actively trying to reduce congestion throughout the city. I’m a DC resident who takes the 14th Street Bridge every day to and from work, and I would happily pay a few extra bucks on those days I wanted to get home faster and avoid traffic. I think it’s a great idea, assuming enough research is done and the long term benefits outweighed the initial cost.

    • There is only one truly free way to get into DC from VA… it’s called walking. All other methods (car, metro, bike) have a cost in some form.

    • This hasn’t stopped states from setting up tolls on highways that were largely funded by the Federal government.

      • cough, deleware

      • This is false. DE, PA, NJ, and FL (probably missing a few) received exemptions from the Highway Act’s anti-tolling provision because they already had toll roads. They didn’t *set them up* on roads paid for by the feds. They already existed. The PA Turnpike was around long before the IHS.

    • austindc

      Pretty sure it’s about as American as an apple pie playing baseball with Uncle Sam in an amber field of freedom grain. Based on the little I learned in public school, this is called capitalism. There is demand for a fast way to get into the city, so the price goes up. We do the exact same thing for rush hour fares on metro and having enforcement hours for metered parking.

      • austindc

        Dammit, I just realized that I responded to a troll. I need to watch out for those. Maybe we need troll lanes, am I right guys? Right? ::crickets::

        • “Based on the little I learned in public school, this is called capitalism.”
          Not quite. At least the second part of your statement supports the first part.

          • austindc

            What do we call it then? If we get to pick names, I want to call it rawkilism. It’s like “rock” but with “raw” which makes it more extreme.

  • I’m of the mind that we have a lot of traffic due to the insistence of agencies and non-profits alike to concentrate a lot of jobs in the District proper. There are many agency jobs that do NOT need to be in DC. They could be doing the same work in Montana or Ohio. While I understand agencies want to be near the power center, I’d love to see some policies that would actually discourage locating to or staying in the District. I think the congestion pricing and other obstacles to MD and VA drivers would help. With telework, phones, and the Internet, there is no longer a need to be right in the middle of things here in DC. We need to break up this concentration- people driving one hour to work from the boondocks (like a lot of my coworkers) is just plain insane.

    • Naïve response….

    • You’re saying we have too many jobs in DC? I can’t imagine someone making this argument in real life. Do you think Silicon Valley should force Facebook to move to Montana and Google should move to Ohio? These regional clusters of industries exist for a reason. You need the right mix of purpose, education, workforce, suppliers, and customers.

      • (NOTE: I speak only with Federal jobs in mind for this comment) No, what I’m saying is, there are a lot of Federal employees who hate this area. For those of us District residents, we’re living quite the life, biking and walking to work, going to our restaurants, and visiting our beloved farmers markets. But there are a lot (I’m thinking of my coworkers with Federal salaries and families) who cannot afford to live here. They, instead, spend hours and hours of their weeks, months, and years fighting traffic. The toll is not just financial- there is a price to pay for all the sitting and aggressive driving. While most Fed jobs are outside of the DC area, I think we can do better by moving even more of them out of here. The congestion, the pollution, the gridlock, and the nasty drivers make this place awful- and public trans options, if you haven’t noticed lately, are pretty reprehensible. The only reason I tolerate DC is because I can bike and walk to work. The monster commutes people are basically forced into for all those great jobs are doing a number on people. If we can’t force them to leave, we need to adopt policies that will encourage their employers to find a better location. At the end of the day, they’ll thank us.

        • Flushing out the federal jobs from D.C. would be a disaster for the city. You might find that job you get to walk and bike to no longer exists.

    • You don’t really understand how cities work, do you? Why in gods name would you advocate for sprawl.

      • No. You’re arguing in favor of cities; I’m arguing in favor of the people who have to work in them (and don’t want to). We’re approaching this from two different angles, and I agree we’re at odds. At the end of the day, I don’t care about DC’s health one bit- neither do most of the transients who live here for a time. I also don’t believe we should force everyone to accept tight, dense housing as the only way to live. I’ll make no apologies for arguing against a system that has people abandoning their families and talents for hours and hours a week. That adds up. You should be able to see that even if you lucked out (like I did) and got to benefit from dense (but expensive) housing here in DC. If awful “sprawl” means a family spends more time together with a more reasonable commute or gets to devote more time to music, fitness, etc.- then why would you oppose it? We have fundamentally different views on this.

        • “If awful “sprawl” means a family spends more time together with a more reasonable commute or gets to devote more time to music, fitness, etc.- then why would you oppose it? ”

          Are you saying that instead of having suburbanites have to commute into the city, we should move the businesses out to them, that way they wouldn’t have to spend so much time commuting in/out of the city and could then spend more time with their family, music, fitness etc?

          • So I’m sure you’re a huge proponent of “smart growth,” however, there are pluses and minuses to that kind of thinking. It’s not all rosy, and not everyone wants to live in dense, packed communities without cars. Sprawl is also not ideal. What’s the answer? I don’t have an answer. All I know is, if I were one of those commuters coming from the sterile burbs of NOVA, it would quickly become an intolerable status quo for me. There’s got to be a better way of ordering our communities. I think it’s called moving to Ann Arbor or Madison (haha).

          • The whole point of a city is to get people closer to the places they frequent, that way the places they frequent will be accessed more easily and by more people. What you seem to be suggesting would actually worsen the problem as it would cause things to spread further out, lengthening the distances between everything resulting in longer commutes and greatly reducing the ability for transit options to prosper what so ever. If people want that, most of this nation is built like that…No need to flip DC inside out to make it happen. They can just move further away from any large metro area and that’s what they’ll get….nice sprawled out suburbia with traffic free commutes to/from their local office park

  • I think the answer to the question hinges on motivations. If DC is trying to profit from commuters, then yes, that makes sense – although it would make more sense to tax incoming Maryland drivers equally. If we’re trying to incentivize carpooling to cut down traffic or help the environment, I think the benefits are less clear. I’d also want to know where the profit from the HOT lanes would go. If it’s to the general fund, I think that’s not enough of a justification. If the HOT lane revenue was put back into mass transit and alternatives to driving, then that would make it much more palatable. All of this to say that I need more details.

  • I think you’d be better off tolling all vehicles except the high occupancy vehicles. That will get more people out of their single occupant motor vehicles faster, which will in turn alleviate some of the congestion and ultimately get more people across the bridge faster.

  • I don’t want to get all economics major/environmentalist here, but the tax revenue is pretty much not the point. The point is to discourage traffic and the accompanying internal-combustion ills that come with it — smog, carbon, gridlock , suburbanites, etc. So the key question should be whether it will reduce car traffic and increase carpooling/public transportation use, will people just sit in traffic longer or find another way into the city.

  • I really love these kind of questions and especially the answers by those non-residents, which are soooo easy to identify, despite their lack of courage to own responses: Non-sense and Anonymous alike.

    You say by “the constitution… its is your right, open access to the capitol, flat out wrong, undemocratic, and un-American… blah, blah, blah” E pluribus Unum, guess that means nothing huh?

    Do you folks realize the Federal Government own ONLY – 26.4 % of the land in Washington DC +/-, most of which is park land.

    NO… that can’t be right you say! The residents of this great city not only have taxation without representation, but we have Marylander and Virginians living the life off our tax money. You think the likes of Boehner, Cantor, Cruz and Tea Party folks care enough to help us pay your way, no we just pay.

    OK, I believe in our constitution. You should get free access to the Federal City, our Capitol, but only it’s respective properties, not private properties. That leaves you with the Mall, Federal Triangle, a few historically sites, and parks… nothing more.

    I have an idea, how about each and every private business such as hotels, Sports Arenas, subway cards, restaurants, cafes, bars, and Food Trucks, etc. start charging you NON-RESIDENTs a higher sales tax or just exempt DC resident all together. That would work!

    Now how is that One lane toll sounding? I personally think each and every bridge into the city should have a toll. Period.

    Of course us DC residents would be exempt since we pay for the upkeep of the bridges, roads, and parks you all destroy during the day, then run back home to your suburbs.

  • I would actually like to see us concentrate more on border security in this country. We should start by sealing the borders with Maryland and Virginia. You don’t need hot lanes because under my plan we would demolish all of the bridges between D.C. and Virginia. Think about that. We could have our own Utopia here. Jobs for everyone, no a-hole Maryland and Virginia drivers, plenty of parking. Who is with me?

  • I think tolling the HOV access road could definitely be feasible. You can avoid some of the 14th St backup when you are going north on 395 by taking the exit to the HOV lanes that cross the river near the Pentagon that is open no matter what direction the VA HOV lanes are going. This sucks because that’s in VA and DC can’t control that open access.

    Also, thinking DC will be able to police high occupancy lanes is not practical. I think they should just generally toll the HOV section of the 14th St Bridge going north with electronic pass or “pay by plate” electronic tolling like they do in Florida so there’s no plaza backing up traffic. No attendants, just the sensors that take a picture of your plate or to read your EzPass. This could be something that can be constructed just after the bridge in DC jurisdiction.

  • I’m not sure it’s feasible to make only one lane a toll lane- how do you collect tolls on just one lane of the bridge?

    The better solution would be to make all three of the bridges from VA to DC toll bridges during peak commuting hours. That would reduce congestion from people driving in and encourage them to take metro or VRE instead. And for those who do drive, it would allow us to collect money to pay for the wear and tear on DC roads caused by VA drivers.

    • “how do you collect tolls on just one lane of the bridge?”
      I’m guessing this would be done in a manner similar to the way they collect tolls from just certain lanes on the beltway in Virginia.

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