An innovative project that would have converted high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, increased highway capacity, reduced congestion, expanded transit, and improved revenue capture will not be benefiting residents of Washington, D.C.’s inner northern Virginia suburbs. Thanks to a completely absurd lawsuit (that, among other things, claimed the proposed lanes were racist) filed by Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced today that it was moving forward with the I-5 HOT lane public-private partnership outside the Beltway, but was taking six miles in Arlington and Alexandria off the table.
Zimmerman and his allies contend that variable-priced toll lanes would somehow constitute an environmental disaster, and that the civil rights of poor minorities would be violated as they have a lower ability to pay the toll. Those who carpool, however, would not have been charged a toll, and the agreement between the state and private consortium Flour-Transurban calls for extensive investment in bus rapid transit. Of course, on average, residents of Arlington County are whiter and wealthier than their counterparts residing in outer-ring suburbs. As for the environmental impact, the roadbed would not be substantially expanded, which is why it received a categorical exclusion from the NEPA review process.
Foolish opposition to tolling runs across the ideological spectrum among those with little understanding of how to actually improve transportation. This past summer, the right-wing Washington Times published an editorial on the subject and actually lamented the fact that generally wealthy, long-distance commuters from Spotsylvania County would be charged for premium high-speed freeway use. The humanity!
Image credit: M.V. Jantzen’s flickr photostream.