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HOT Lane Usage…Bait and Switch Coming?

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The 10 second version of the HOT Lanes sales pitch sounds pretty positive, but a look behind the curtain says the fast talking salesman is prepping his mark for the old bait and switch.

Here’s what they tell you, the citizen, the voter, the mark

HOT lanes will reduce congestion.  Some users will be able to ride for free.  The road will be open to all comers.

Sounds good doesn’t it?  Except that HOT lane supporters don’t even really believe it…

In a 2011 piece by the Reason Foundation’s Robert W. Poole Jr, one of the leading proponents of HOT lanes, he outlines why this is not and more importantly should not be the case.  (See Automating HOT Lanes Enforcement, Reason Foundation 2011.)

Who is Robert Poole?  From the above linked article…

“Robert W. Poole, Jr. is the director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation, the free market think tank he founded. Poole, an MIT-trained engineer, has advised the previous four presidential administrations on transportation and policy issues.

In the field of surface transportation, Poole has advised the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the White House Office of Policy Development, National Economic Council, Government Accountability Office and state DOTs in numerous states.

Poole’s 1988 policy paper proposing privately financed toll lanes to relieve congestion directly inspired California’s landmark private tollway law (AB 680), which authorized four pilot toll projects including the successful 91 Express Lanes in Orange County. More than 20 other states and the federal government have since enacted similar public-private partnership legislation. In 1993, Poole oversaw a study that coined the term HOT (high-occupancy toll) Lanes, a term which has become widely accepted since.” (Emphasis added)

Poole coined the term HOT Lanes.  He is one of the field’s leading experts.  Yet, his paper says the only way to effectively manage HOT lanes like the ones proposed for I-77 is to effectively do none of the things tossed out in the HOT Lanes 10-second sales pitch.

The I-77 project is actually described as a HOT 2.0 facility where tolls will finance the actual construction of much of the project. (The small HOV conversion portion being the exception.)  As a HOT 2.0 effort, toll collection and enforcement become vital to the success of the project.  They are critical because they are used to actually pay for the construction of the road.  To ensure these critical needs are met, changes from the promises of the “sales pitch” are necessary for the project to meet it’s funding requirements.

  • Instead of “reducing congestion” for all travelers, we get a “congestion-relief lane” for those willing to pay a premium.
  • Instead of “some users get to ride for free”, we get a system designed to reduce the number of free riders by as much as possible.  According to Poole, 83% of vehicles on existing HOT 2.0 projects pay tolls. That’s compared to 35% of riders on HOT 1.0 lanes which are entirely converted HOV-2 facilities.
  • Instead of “the road being open to all comers”, we get proposals from Mr Poole that only pre-registered and audited carpoolers should be allowed to use the lanes for free with all others needing some sort of transponder.

These proposals don’t come from people opposed to HOT lanes or tolls in general.  These proposals don’t come from people who have a vested interest in seeing these projects fail.  These proposals come from the person who coined the term HOT and who is one of its biggest supporters.

But Mr Poole didn’t coin the term HOT 2.0.  No, according to Mr Poole, that honor goes to David Ungemah.

If you would like to hear Mr. Ungemah, he’ll be participating in the HOT 2.0 sales pitch this Wednesday at the Lake Norman Transportation Commission meeting in Mooresville – 7PM at the Charles Mack Center.

Just remember, as with any sales pitch it isn’t always representative of what they are truly trying to sell you.

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