Lexus Lanes for D.C. Beltway
Beltway To Get Va. Toll Lanes (WaPo, A1)
Construction of the first major expansion of the Capital Beltway in a generation could start as soon as next year, Virginia transportation officials said yesterday after signing a deal with two private firms to build toll lanes for a speedier ride on 14 miles of the chronically clogged highway. The deal calls for adding two lanes in each direction of the Beltway, separated from other traffic, between Springfield and Georgetown Pike near the Maryland border. The high-occupancy toll — or HOT — lanes would be free for vehicles containing three or more people; other drivers would pay to use them. To keep the lanes from clogging, tolls would increase with the amount of traffic. The state would not have to pay anything for the new lanes. The private companies would invest the entire $900 million cost of the project in exchange for all or part of the toll revenue.
“For drivers in Northern Virginia, it’ll mean new capacity, which is something that has not been offered in a long time,” said Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet. “It means a new opportunity for HOV and transit, and it means a choice for drivers who want to pay for a faster commute.”
The lanes represent the first step in what regional leaders hope is an extensive network of toll lanes across the region. Virginia officials are considering additional HOT lanes on parts of Interstates 95 and 395, and Maryland officials are exploring express toll lanes on the Beltway, I-270, the Baltimore Beltway and I-95 north of Baltimore. Maryland officials said yesterday that they are in the early stage of studying Beltway toll lanes. “We’re a few steps behind Virginia,” said Valerie Burnette Edgar, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
Critics once derided such lanes as “Lexus lanes” — arguing that they favor the wealthy and were a double tax on roads that motorists already pay for — but have changed their minds because studies have shown that they are used by people of all incomes and, in this case, because no state money is being used.
They’re sorely needed, to be sure. The Beltway is gridlocked several hours a day and isn’t reliable even in the off hours. More Metro capacity will help but there’s too many people who need to use cars in the area.