Feeling HOT, HOT, HOT….

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Toll hikes are a tough sell in this area, but what if tolls were optional? And what if you were getting a premium level of service in return for your money?

That’s the basic idea behind HOT (High Occupancy Toll) Lanes. These are segregated lanes that are tolled (usually at variable rates to keep traffic flowing) and run alongside ‘free’, untolled lanes.

Think the HOV lanes on I-93 except they charge an open-road toll for vehicles that aren’t carpools. The toll would vary according to the time of day in order to keep traffic flowing (e.g. the price would be high during rush hour and decline during times of lighter traffic).

Lots of other places are trying this concept out right now and it got a lot of virtues. For existing HOV lanes with underutilized capacity, the HOT concept will put that capacity into productive use. It provides more options for users, providing a premium level of service for a price. HOT lanes generate revenue through the tolls which are both optional (you can always use the free, more congested lanes) and, according to some research, more equitable than other forms of transportation finance. In its most sophisticated form, public-private partnerships have been formed to build HOT lanes alongside existing roadways, using the income from tolls to add capacity at no cost to the public sector (beyond the foregone property abutting the roadway).

Could we use extra capacity in our highway system? Sure. Is there underutilization of the HOV lanes? Yes (but perhaps not enough to warrant full conversion). Do we have money to build that capacity? No.

So let’s put HOT lanes on the table as part (not all, obviously) of a comprehensive transportation solution.

Crossposted at Boston Daily.