Tap the Brakes on Express Lanes?

The Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock made some excellent points in his column this week, a portion of which is quoted below.  With Virginia on the verge of finalizing a “megaproject” to put out to bid, should a lot more attention be paid to the details and the public now?

Hosting a few meetings and then drumming a rapid cadence to environmental hearings on a holiday week is hardly respectful to the people who will have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives or until they are driven out of the area.  This process can yield a 50+ year “public-private partnership” contract that locks generations of Virginians into a painful agreement.  It would also lock those same generations out of change and technology innovations to come for the better part of a century. We’ll let Dr. G take it from here…

“When governments make decisions about major transportation projects, they are making decisions for commuters yet to be born.

The Metro’s Silver Line, Maryland’s Intercounty Connector and Virginia’s HOT lanes are going to last a long time.

The HOT lanes were built through public-private partnerships, which require the state to give the private companies a long-term lease so they recoup their investment. Drivers get extra lanes now, but the private partners get revenue from tolls for most of the century.

That longevity is one more reason to pay attention to the issues that (University of Maryland’s) Mark Franz and others have raised about the HOT lanes program.

I listened last week as Marcia Hook of Dunn Loring made a similar point while protesting the HOT lanes plan for Interstate 66 in a statement to the region’s Transportation Planning Board.

The Interstate 495 express lanes “contract has a term of 75 years,” she said. “Now go back 75 years to 1940. Imagine what a deal signed by transportation planners then would look like today. Would that contract make sense today, 75 years later, without the benefit of understanding the nearly eight decades of change and technological innovations that were to come?”

People who live in Dunn Loring and Vienna have a very personal concern about Virginia’s HOT lanes plan for outside the Capital Beltway, because they live in areas that could be affected directly by widening the interstate.

But these residents and commuters who live all along the I-66 corridor are raising issues that must be addressed, about the fairness and practicality of the state plan.

Four members of Congress from Virginia see it that way, too. They sent a letter to Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.

The basic message from U.S. Reps. Gerald E. Connolly (D), Robert J. Wittman (R), Don Beyer (D) and Barbara J. Comstock (R) was: Not so fast.

“The far-reaching implications of your proposal on commuters and neighborhoods, the rapid timetable proposed, and the lack of public input into the planning process are deeply troubling,” the letter to Layne said. “Left unaddressed, these concerns would make it difficult for us to build support and consensus for this project.”

Read the rest of Dr Gridlock’s Column. 

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3 Responses to Tap the Brakes on Express Lanes?

  1. Mark S. says:

    A key difference between I-66 and I-495/I-95/Transurban is the I-66 project will be an open competition which will lead to Commonwealth getting a more favorable contract.

    Interesting data points from Transurban:

    Using this data as an example:

    For I-95, if the current work day revenue remains constant at $134,242 for the next 73 years, Transurban will bring in $2.45 Billion Dollars in revenue just on workdays.

    $134,242*250 work days *73 year agreement = $2.45 Billion Dollars


    • Bryan says:

      The I-95/I-395 project was a competition as well. A special panel appointed by the Commonwealth Transportation Board chose the Transurban/Fluor partnership proposal over the Clark/Shirley proposal in late 2005. (Clark/Shirley originally favored a not-for-profit operation instead of an equity deal). The selection wasn’t just about pricing and engineering, but in the end the selection was somewhat arbitrary. Note that the 2005 proposal was substantially different than the actual constructed project that began in 2011, after environmental reviews and a settled lawsuit by Arlington County.


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