Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Getting HOT In Atlanta or Why We Are All Stuck In Traffic

Sit right down and I'll tell you a tale, a tale 'bout a federal highway, your tax dollars and why people aren't allowed to, or won't drive on that highway.

Way back in 2008 Georgia secured a grant from the feds for $110 million to convert what at the time were called HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes into HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes. Now you can just imagine the amount of work, man hours and materials that were to go into this project, afterall it was costing $110 million to transform this 15 mile stretch of highway from HOV to HOT.

Well actually not. Of course the residents of Atlanta had to endure 3 years worth of disruptions, delays, and general annoyance while this project which consisted of little more then painting a solid white stripe on the highway and putting some sensors in the lane was undertaken. Finally the big day arrived on Oct. 1, 2011 when the HOT lanes were unveiled in all their glory.

The premise behind HOT lanes is that the price to drive in this lane is adjusted according to need. The heavier the congestion is on the rest of the highway the more it will cost you to hop over into the HOT to get out of it and drive into work. In theory if you have 3 or more people you can get into the lane anytime you want for no charge. Well that is the theory. You see they have no way of knowing how many people are in the vehicle. You are required to buy a special pass called a Peach Pass which contains a microchip that is read by the sensors in the road and allows you to drive in this lane. Provided you logged onto the web site that morning or before departing work and going home that is and told them you had three people. Or more. Otherwise you pay the toll. Unless you didn't have the Peach Pass to start with in which case you also pay a fine.

Wait cried the people, didn't our tax dollars pay for this highway to be built? Why yes it did, now shut up this is different. Are you adding a lane they asked? No, but look at the paint. Isn't there a tax on gas on the state level and federal level that is supposed to be for this sort of thing? Yes, now shut up before we raise it even more.

Confused yet? Anyway by noon of Day One the complaints were rolling in, mostly about the cost of the lane with some people being charged up to $5 to drive a couple of miles in this new greatest innovation since asphalt, designed to meet all of our future needs and to end commuter frustration forever Orwellian torture device. After a few days and dwindling numbers of cars spotted in this wonder of modern engineering the governor decided to take a look at it and see what he could do, and that is where the Federal Department of Transportation once again stepped back in.

Remember that grant way back in 2008? Well you see the feds say that the rules are three or more people get to ride for free in the HOT lane and when Governor Deal wanted to explore the idea of reducing it to two people the federal nanny wagged her finger in the governor's face and said not so fast.

The picture at the top is how traffic looked when we had HOV lanes. The picture below is those same lanes, notice the double white stripe, as HOT lanes.

We understand that a lot of policies from Washington are designed to modify behavior, and in the last couple of years they have become even more draconian and unyielding, and that is exactly the idea behind HOT lanes. Force commuters to use public transportation, car pool, or discontinue the use of fossil fuels. They have made it so cost prohibitive to get to work now that a lot of people add in that cost when seeking a job, afterall if is going to cost you more to get to work then you will make why bother. Besides the government is going to be there handing out those checks anyway.


Michael Ryan said...

The same sort of deal is coming in DC, only worse.  They really are building separate lanes, replacing all intersecting bridges, and so forth. The Australian company doing this already owns one toll road here in VA that they are taking a bath on.

The HOT will be worse.Roughly $1B cost.  So, debt service alone (no principal paydown, no maintenance and operations costs) if at 2% interest is $20M/yr or about $55K per day. Average trip cost of the floating toll rate is expected to be $5-6, so they need a full toll paying car to enter the lanes about every 10 seconds 24/7/365 TO MEET THE FREAKING INTEREST PAYMENTS.

BEST YET - To ensure that the commercial developers have a fair chance of getting their money back and making a profit, VDOT has agreed to forego any improvements to the rest of the highway, in order to force traffic into the HOT lanes. Sweet!

Doug Fletcher said...

Hanging is too good for these people.

whitehall said...

Got the same scam here in California's Bay Area. Interstate 680 added a southbound lane. Looks like $6.50 a use during peak travel times.

Thanks but no thanks. If the normal lanes are not too full, one can pay the hefty price and get stuck behind a slow driver and fall BEHIND the other traffic. losing time AND money.