Hey Atlanta, how is that new HOT Lane working out?

In October 2011 the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) opened a 15.5-mile stretch of converted HOV lanes to HOT lane operation.

Like the proposed I-77 HOT lanes, the I-85 HOT lane was the first to be implemented in its region. GDOT officials promised HOT lanes would “manage traffic” and “offer paying drivers a choice.” GDOT officials also said “toll lanes do not, nor are they intended to, resolve or even substantially improve congestion in the general purpose lanes.” Also, in an effort to increase revenues, the existing occupancy requirement was increased from two persons per vehicle to three.

After the initial backlash local public officials insisted the HOT lane was the state’s idea and they were powerless to stop it.  Furious citizens in Gwinnett county demanded to know who was accountable, and the state Pols pointed back to the Golden Dome.

Does any of this sound familiar?

We in Lake Norman have been given the rare gift of historical precedence; after one year of operation the results speak for themselves:

  • Carpooling decreased by 50%
  • The HOT lane now accounts for a scant 4% of all traffic
  • Commute times have increased
  • Toll rates (and revenues) continue to set new highs month after month
  • Despite this, toll revenue fell short of even the lowest projection and failed to cover operating costs

Granted, this last point will probably change in a couple of years.  To encourage drivers to sign up for the program Georgia is giving away transponders, and the governor initially stepped in and cut the maximum toll from $5 to $3.

Georgia voters were so incensed that last summer they defeated a referendum on a transportation sales tax.  If it’s one thing HOT lane champions love, it’s more money for mass transit.  Oh, the irony!

While the salesmanship and reasoning were similar for the two projects, on paper I-77 looks far worse.   Here’s a comparison:

I85I77

Notes: (1) I-77 over the causeways will have a single lane

(2) Highest toll as of Sept, 2012

(3) Items in grey are projections per MUMPO

Several things stand out:

  1. I-77 traffic at the “Huntersville Squeeze” is as bad as Atlanta’s!
  2. Operating costs are projected to be less than one third of I-85’s
  3. I-77 is expected to cover capital costs (ten times I-85) and return a profit
  4. As a conclusion, we can expect our tolls to be higher- much higher- than $5.95

A bad idea is a bad idea.  Let’s not make the same mistake as Atlanta.

Sources:

http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/first-year-of-i-85-hot-lane-brings-drivers-but-les/nSRyT/

http://www.dot.state.ga.us/travelingingeorgia/expresslanes/I85expresslanes/pages/FAQs.aspx

http://saportareport.com/blog/2011/12/toll-lanes-are-not-part-of-the-solution-they-are-part-of-the-problem/

http://www.gwinnettdailypost.com/news/2011/nov/17/accountability-on-minds-of-hot-lanes-foes-at-town/

http://www.wsbradio.com/news/news/traffic-patterns-changing-hot-lane-launch/nFNx3/

An Imminent Calamity: An Open Meeting on HOT Lanes

Hello Friends-.

Below is a copy of the cover letter and press release for an important informational meeting.  Please make time to join us.  You can download a copy of the press release here:  January 14 Meeting Press Release-1

Hello,

Widen I-77, a recently formed citizen’s group, invites the general public, elected officials and the media to a presentation and discussion of the state’s current plan for widening I-77 from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Mooresville using high occupancy toll lanes (HOT lanes).

The meeting is Monday, January 14 at 7:00 p.m. at Cornelius Town Hall, 21445 Catawba Avenue, Cornelius, N.C. 28031 in Room 204.

Please see the attached Press Release for more information.

The group believes this is the most important issue facing our region since Lake Norman was created. Decisions regarding this important transportation artery will affect us for generations to come, and the group is committed to educating the aforementioned on the consequences of the state’s current plan.

There are several critical deadlines approaching and time is of the essence.

We hope you will join us.

Best regards,

Kurt Naas
widenI77@hotmail.com

PS
Here are two links in case you have not seen the recent media coverage:
http://www.foxcharlotte.com/news/local/Opposition-To-I-77-Toll-Lanes-Growns-183731851.html
http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/12/15/3728382/i-77-toll-lanes-questioned.html

Also visit widenI77.org and find us on facebook for more information.

 

NCDOT to Towns: If You Don’t Want HOT Lanes, You Need to Tell Us

At Cornelius’ last town board meeting, Mayor (now Senator-elect) Jeff Tarte proclaimed “the state wants to change the policy to tolling.” Jeff’s also on record as saying toll lanes are the “new normal” when it comes to road funding.

Since he’s packing his bags for Raleigh, he must be tied in with the current thinking of the movers and shakers over there so we’ll assume he speaks for the inside-the-Raleigh-Beltline crowd.  But I wondered… does he speak for Mecklenburg?  For Lake Norman?  What if a local region wants something different?  Must Raleigh cram toll lanes down our throats even if we offer a different solution?

Well, your fearless blogger went straight to the source and asked Louis Mitchell, NCDOT Division 10 Engineer.  For all intents and purposes, Louis is the “voice” of NCDOT for Mecklenburg.

In a Dec 1st email I asked if the towns replaced the $22M gap now covered by tolls with a municipal source of revenue, would NCDOT build general purpose lanes instead of HOT lanes?  Further, before NCDOT awards the contract next summer, would they give us time to consider alternatives?  After a bit of prodding Louis responded.  Here is his email:

Louisemail

The email speaks for itself.  Huntervsille, Cornelius, Davidson, are you listening?  If we want NCDOT to consider alternatives…. uhhhhh…. we first have to ask.  Tolls do not have to be the “new normal.”

That First Step is the Toughest

Think back to the time when you bought your house. You signed a 30 year note and took on the largest piece of debt you ever had in your life.  Did you look at just one house? Of course not. Even if you ended up buying the first home you looked at, I’m sure you looked at several.  And if you built custom, you probably talked to more than one architect.

We face the public equivalent with the HOT lane proposal.  The contract will run 50 years and, when all is said and done, will have LKN commuters shelling out tens of millions.

So why wouldn’t we look at alternatives first?

Well, Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy agrees, and this summer he & I co-wrote a resolution requesting the Lake Norman Transportation Commission (LNTC) to do just that.  We brought it to the Board in September.  At that time, we did not feel a majority supported it, and Commissioner Lynette Rinker was adamantly against it.   Since September, Commissioners Jeff Hare and John Bradford both have expressed their support.

So with that margin assured (Cornelius has five commissioners) Dave brought up the topic again at the Dec 3rd town board meeting.  But once again it never came up for a vote.

This time Commissioner Chuck Travis, Cornelius’ representative on the LNTC, suggested (lobbied? cajoled?) he be given the opportunity to discuss the idea with the other LKN towns.  The LNTC can investigate alternatives, his reasoning goes, without the towns resorting to formal resolutions.

Is this a good thing or a delaying tactic?  On the one hand Chuck’s on record as saying he “wants the P3 process to run its course,” meaning he wants the private companies proposals in hand before we do anything.  That’s about as prudent as going into escrow on the first house you look at.

On the other hand, he’s volunteered to carry the general purpose lane torch into the LNTC.  (The LNTC, I should add, is on record as supporting “managed lanes.”)  He is to report back to the Board at their next meeting, Dec 17th.

So what to make of this latest development?  I’ve met Chuck, had a few cups of coffee with him, and he seems a solid guy.  If he says he’s going to move the ball forward, let’s take him at his word.

But given the history of inactivity on this, your fearless blogger will trust… but verify.  Stay tuned.