And so it begins.
The like-it-or-not High-Occupancy Toll lanes are now a step closer to reality – at least in Northern Virginia.
So what are these HOT lanes, exactly?
These are specialized lanes that will reside on the ‘inside’ of the Beltway (specifically, a stretch of I-495 in NoVA) where carpools can use them for free and individual drivers looking to ditch the rest of us pokies will have to cough up some money. But there’s no actual ‘tollbooth’ to deal with.
Users would be required to have transponders similar to the current E-Z Pass system that automatically logs and charges you your toll fee. A fee that fluctuates based on how many cars are in the HOT lanes at a given time. The claim is that drivers will have a clog-free ride at 55 mph; how the electronic system will differentiate between solo drivers and carpools (driver and 2+ passengers, like the current HOV lane) hasn’t been exactly explained yet.
If you’re a commuter on the Beltway as I am, you can see preparations for this massive highway project already underway as sections of the shoulder are being cleared. They will first be expanding the Beltway from 8 to 12 lanes on the outside, followed by switching the two inner lanes into HOT lanes.
WaPo has a detailed map of the system with all of the proposed entry and exit points. It’s about as complicated as you think.
The big question now is whether or not Maryland will continue the HOT lanes on their side of the border. According to WTOP, Montgomery County President Mike Knapp is seriously considering looking at continuing the HOT lanes from Virginia. “I think it is really silly to have HOT lanes part-way through Virginia, ending at the American Legion Bridge and then we don’t have anything on the other side,” he said on WTOP’s Politics Program last week.
However, not everyone in MoCo is in agreement. County Executive Ike Leggett said on the same show, “I do not like HOT lanes, the Lexus lanes, the payment lanes. I do not like those.”
What is obvious is that something will need to be done. I’d hate to be a HOT lane driver in the afternoon rush approaching the Maryland border and come to a screeching halt when the lane just…ends. And can you imagine the horrendous merging choke point? The I-270 split is bad enough now to back up traffic to Tyson’s by 4 p.m. If Maryland doesn’t even add additional lanes, you’re looking at a brand-new traffic nightmare.
The Montgomery County Council is expected to debate the issue during their fall sessions. While it will still be five years before we even see the end of this latest of Beltway barrells, MoCo needs to decide soon if they want to be partners here…or give Virginia drivers one more reason to cringe when we see a Maryland license plate.