Widen I-77 Goes to Raleigh- Meeting Notification

!!! IMPORTANT MEETING NOTIFICATION !!!

Inform

Widen I-77 Goes to Raleigh

WidenI77.org, a citizens group, invites the public, elected officials, public employees and the media to a presentation and debrief on their recent meetings with state legislators and transportation officials in Raleigh.

In addition the group will discuss recent developments regarding the state’s proposed plan to widen interstate 77 with toll lanes.  The presentation will be from a resident’s point of view and promises to be a significant departure from prior presentations by managed lane consultants and NCDOT officials.

An extended question and answer session will follow.

Date:               Wednesday April 3, 2013
Time:               7 p.m.
Location:         Cornelius Town Hall, 21445 Catawba Avenue
                        Cornelius, NC 28031 Assembly Room

From Mooresville Tribune: OUR VIEW: Toll lanes aren’t the answer to I-77 woes

mooresvilletribunePosted: Monday, March 25, 2013 11:34 am

OUR VIEW: Toll lanes aren’t the answer to I-77 woes

An editorial of the Mooresville Tribune

If highways in the greater Charlotte region had gotten the financial attention they deserved years ago from the State of North Carolina, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.

Decades of being ignored by the eastern N.C. power base spawned the mess we have today in this area with clogged interstate highways that should have been made wider when they were originally built. Getting state money to widen I-77 all the way from Charlotte into Iredell County continually falls on deaf ears; other projects around the state are always more important.

So now the state is looking at a public-private partnership to create high-occupancy toll lanes on I-77 as a way to lessen congestion. That would get the interstate widened faster, backers say.

They are correct, but turning I-77 into a partial toll highway is wrong. First, making motorists pay a toll to drive on roads that they already fund through their taxes just isn’t right. It’s sort of like the personal property tax we pay the county each year for the right to operate our cars, but that’s another argument for another time.

Instead of toll lanes, I-77 should be much higher on the state’s priority list of interstate highways needing widening. As Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce board member Mike Russell stated at a recent meeting of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, “I want a list of the 91 other (state) projects that are ahead of this one in funding.”

Added Iredell County Commissioner Ken Robertson, “In the past 15-20 years, I have watched all other interstates get widened except for ours. We are told that other projects have higher priority than I-77 and the only way to get it done now is through toll roads. It’s about equity.”

We agree with Robertson and Russell. Toll lanes are not the answer to I-77’s woes. Widening the interstate by adding general-purpose lanes is the only way to effectively attack the congestion problem we face on a daily basis.

Top 10 Things I Learned From Last Night’s MUMPO Meeting

charlottemeckbuildingLast night’s MUMPO (Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization) meeting was another “highly revealing” briefing by transportation and elected officials. The public who we spoke with after the meeting came away dismayed and frustrated over the way the transportation and elected officials continue to handle these HOT lane meetings and public briefings. It’s more of the same — a sales pitch representing one side followed by no real questions or concerns by our elected officials. The public is given a few minutes for comments and questions, and then that’s it for hearing the “other side” of the toll lane debate.

1) I learned that a HOT lane proposal is now under consideration for Independence Blvd./Highway 74. Are they now going beyond tolling interstates to also controlling roads that are much like boulevards?

2) Only Commissioner David Howard, City of Charlotte Commissioner, asked questions of any signficance. Many of the officials representing MUMPO looked annoyed and bored to be there. They were approving all of these “studies” for HOT lane projects and no one asked how much the studies would cost. To me, when they say they’re doing a “study”, that is code for “we’ve made up our mind and the study is a kick-off for generating a public sales pitch”.

3) I counted only 10 elected officials in attendance representing MUMPO. Only ten people were there to make sweeping decisions for our county’s highways and authorizing what is probably hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions of dollars) in studies. The meeting looked like an HOA meeting where they were discussing what color of petunias to plant in front of a neighborhood entrance, and not about making million dollar decisions that impact nearly every resident in one of the state’s largest metropolitan areas.  It was not the caliber of discussion I would expect for a half-billion dollar toll road.

4) Bill Coxe, Huntersville Transportation Director, spoke about the progress and benefits of the HOT lane plan. He referenced a survey that claimed that about 55-58% of 300 people interviewed supported toll lanes. He also spoke about a focus group they conducted that found people agreed with the use of toll lanes. While focus groups and surveys can be useful, we don’t know if the questions were guided or worded in a way to get a desired response that would support HOT lanes. Were they guiding participants to pick the lesser of two evils? An example might be, “Would you support toll lanes if it meant less traffic congestion, or would you rather sit in traffic and pay a higher gas tax?”

5) One transportation official told me yesterday that Raleigh legislators have the power and ability to reallocate funds to improve the roads in the State’s most congested and neglected roads – most of which are in Mecklenburg County. He also said that he and others at the NCDOT weren’t thrilled about the idea of utilizing a P3 for the HOT lane project and losing control of the roads to a private company.

6) Bill Coxe told the audience the goal is for the I-77 tolls to “ease congestion” and to be completed in 2017. But wait…haven’t we been told by NCDOT and others officials that this is not going to ease congestion, but rather give those with the dollars a choice to have a less congested ride? We already know from studies and the NCDOT’s own words that congestion in the general purpose lanes won’t improve with the addition of toll lanes. They should stop misleading people by saying this is a way to ease congestion.

7) Since they mentioned surveys last night, I went looking for them today. Here is a link to the survey they conducted in 2007. It appears the questions could have been guided toward a desired response. Stakeholder Interview Summary . Other red flags were revealed with this survey report from interviewee comments. I want to make it clear that we weren’t there when this survey was conducted, so we don’t know the specific questions. To me, one disturbing phrase at the end of their focus group presentation says, “NCDOT/CDOT needs to control the narrative.” (NCDOT/CDOT ). That’s something you’d see in a Crisis Communications plan crafted by a New York City PR agency representing Lindsey Lohan or Tiger Woods.

8) Bill Thunberg of the LNTC was at last night’s meeting and he was a big help today in providing me a link to the surveys and reports. Even though the two of us disagree about the HOT lane plan, I appreciate his quick response today to my request for the survey information. Here is the link he sent to me that contains the surveys they referenced last night. HOT Lanes in Mecklenburg County

9) MUMPO also said the last chance for the public to voice their opinions to MUMPO about I-77 tolls is from March 23rd – April 22nd, which is when they are offering a public comment period before their final recommendation for the HOT lane proposal. MUMPO will give their final word on this plan in May. For now, they want to know where the funds will be coming from for this project.

10) The next MUMPO briefings on the toll lanes for I-77 are April 10 and 11, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. (Ironically, right when people are driving home from work and probably won’t be available to attend a briefing – do you think that’s planned?)

WidenI77.org and residents around the state desire for our congested highways to be widened without the use of toll lanes. Funds are available with the state; it’s a matter of prioritizing those funds. I surmise that option was not given in the focus group nor in the survey they referenced. As the transportation official explained to me last night, we believe the solution is in the hands of the legislators in Raleigh. This is a matter of political will, not lack of public funds.

How to charge for congestion where there is none

First in an occasional series regarding little nuggets we’ve found in the HOT lane Request for Proposal (RFP).

In section 1.1.1 of the Third Industrial Review Draft, Volume II, Book 2 (Technical Provisions), we found this little gem about the central section (from exit 13 to exit 28):

The Developer shall provide a minimum of two ingress/egress locations in each direction….. Developer may provide additional ingress or egress points or… provide direct access ramps to/from the HOT Lanes at Developer’s discretion. The exact locations shall be determined by Developer, but shall be provided as a minimum at two points located:

on I-77 between Exit 13 I-85 and Exit 19 I-485;
on I-77 between Exit 19 I-485 and Exit 28 Catawba Avenue

So why is this a big deal?  The map below may help.

Say you live in Huntersville and your commute has you hopping on I-77 from Sam Furr to AccessPointshead downtown.  You look to the south and see gridlock, so you cruise on over to the toll lanes and zip past traffic until mile marker 22 where the interstate widens and traffic starts moving.  You’ve only been in the toll lane for three miles and maybe paid a buck or two, right?

Wrong. Under the current RFP, the toll lane company doesn’t have to let you out of the toll lane until exit 13. Remember, you pay by the mile. So you’ll pay ten miles worth of tolls to avoid three miles of traffic. The toll lane company wants to capture you in the widened section of the road so they can make more money.

Coming home you can expect the same only in reverse.  So if you want ‘Lake Norman access’ you may have to jump on as far south as exit 13, although there is nothing in RFP that says the entrance/exit points must be co-located. To collect more paying customers, the northbound access point will most likely be located between Sunset (exit 16) and WT Harris (exit 18).

Skeptical? Then answer me this: why is this the only stretch of road where access points are specified?  The north section (through Davidson and Iredell) and the south section (through downtown Charlotte) have no restriction on access points. It’s not a coincidence that the widened stretch of I-77 is the only one with restricted access.

If you’re the toll lane company, you’ll probably want more than a single access point through Lake Norman.  In fact, you’ll probably put in access points just south of exit 28 and exit 25. Where might those be?  We get a clue from the “Developer may provide direct access ramps to/from the HOT Lanes.”   Direct access can only be provided via a bridge by what are called ‘center drop down lanes.’  As the name implies, these on/off ramps are from the left most lane, allowing a driver to enter/exit without merging into the general purpose lanes.

Conveniently, the RFP requires the Westmoreland and Hambright bridges to be replaced.  However, it forbids an access point “in the vicinity of the future Westmoreland Road interchange.”  (I wonder if the folks who live off Westmoreland are aware their flyover would become an interstate interchange?  Cue the fast food franchises.)  So that leaves an access point just south of exit 28 and…Hambright.  Since tolling is by the mile, most customers will opt for the southernmost access, and that means Hambright.

Huntersville, are you listening?

Is North Carolina Part of the HOT Lane Scheme?

playbookIf you ask your neighbor what a HOT lane is, they may look at you as if you’re talking about some kind of new bowling alley or a seedy website. Almost no one is aware of the HOT lane scheme or a “playbook” by transportation agencies to convert highways into “pay-as-you-drive” modes of transportation.

Interstate 77 is the latest U.S. highway targeted as a candidate for HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes. This is a project that not only impacts I-77, but is likely to impact many other major highways in North Carolina. Proof in point: the NCDOT is on record as saying that they are looking at adding HOT lanes to other highways in North Carolina. The goal of their I-77 project from Charlotte to Mooresville, as acknowledged by Bill Thunberg of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission (as mentioned on Statesville Radio 1400 a.m.), is to change our driving behavior (via carpooling) and not to ease congestion on I-77 for the existing lanes. (Listen to the radio story called Meeting Concerning I-77 Widening Project to be Held in Mooresville at http://www.wsicweb.com/ , dated March 13).

We recommend that you take a look at this document High Occupancy/Toll Lanes. What makes this report called High Occupancy/Toll Lanes: Phasing in Congestion Pricing A Lane At A Time by authors Fielding and Klein both alarming and relevant to the proposal for I-77 and of concern for all N.C. citizens is the following:

1)      NCDOT/politicians are calling these toll lanes HOT lanes as this playbook suggests.

2)      NCDOT is starting this scheme by taking over the HOV lane on I-77. This is what the authors prescribe in order to condition drivers to get used to HOT lanes – by starting with converting an HOV lane. For those who currently use I-77’s HOV lane that requires two or more drivers, this means that couples driving to work or carpoolers and work crews of two, will need to move over to the general purpose “free” lanes or pay to use the HOT lanes.

3)      I recently asked an area commissioner, “Why do I feel like I’m being conditioned and manipulated to accept a plan that the overwhelming majority of people are opposed to?” His answer, with a straight face, was “that’s what our job as politicians is – to condition and manipulate you – otherwise you would not accept any of our proposals.” Since it was clear by his demeanor that he was not joking or being sarcastic, I countered his view of his role as a town commissioner by saying, “that is not the way citizens want their elected officials to lead – by conditioning and manipulating citizens”. He brushed aside my concern and replied, “Well, that’s the way it is.” Conditioning drivers or behavior modification is a suggested tactic from this document.

4)      While some lawmakers could respond to this document by saying that they are working on legislation to ensure that existing highways are not turned into HOT lanes, the current N.C. Senate and House bills (filed the week of March 3) under consideration do not prevent HOT lanes from taking over existing HOV lanes or new lanes from any highway. That bit of information was reported to the Charlotte Observer during their interview with Rep. Bill Brawley who signed onto House Bill H267. New lanes, new highways and HOV lanes are all targets for HOT lane projects. Also a bill or amendment can always be passed to say that the NCDOT has the authority to convert any lane (new or old) into a HOT lane. They may also say that this document was written in 1993 and does not pertain to 2013. Well, it takes about 20 years for new government plans to get implemented and travel their way across the country – these HOT lanes have been in use and frustrated drivers for years in states such as California, Florida, Texas and in Atlanta.

5)      NCDOT and NC politicians acknowledge that the HOT lane scheme does not ease congestion on existing lanes. They say it only provides a more predictable ride (at least 43 mph in the case of I-77) for those willing to pay whatever the price the private company determines to charge at that minute.

6)      During the March 13th meeting in Mooresville, NCDOT representatives would not say how much the tolls would be, and it has been stated consistently that there is no ceiling as to how high the tolls will rise. Per this HOT lane document by Fielding and Klein, the tolls would go as high as needed to push drivers out of the HOT lanes so that only those with enough money or desperate enough will use the highway.

7)      The end goal of this scheme is to have people avoid using the roads and only use them if they are willing to pay for the “privilege” of a highway already paid by our tax dollars. Yes, they actually refer to using our tax-paid roads as a privilege.

8)      These toll lanes are another form of taxation and they especially hurt lower and middle income earners since the fees are a higher percentage of their take-home pay. For instance, a high income earner paying $10 to use a toll lane to get to work is not as impacted as someone who makes $10 an hour. Thus, using the toll lane could cost the $10/hour worker an hour of work just to get his or her job.

9)      This model has been used in many other states and it has been a major debacle. Not only is congestion worse and drivers are angered, but some of the private companies have gone bankrupt and left the states holding the debt.

Finally, it’s important to note that the authors of this document adhere to an extreme view of Libertarianism. They work or have worked as employees and/or consultants for the federal government. Some Republicans “leaders” (note: not the Republican voters) say they accept such a plan as HOT lanes on I-77 because they believe in “free market economics” and market demand for our road use. If this is what they truly believe, then they should be refunding us the tax dollars that were used to build the highway in the first place. Meanwhile, far left liberals may accept the HOT lane approach if they believe people should not be using cars anymore, and instead piling into a bus, crowded train or walking and biking. That may work in some locations (Tokyo, New York City, Paris…or if you live next to your workplace, the grocery store, school, dentist and doctor – not likely), but it does not work for our suburban and rural environments.

Our state and local governments are responsible for properly prioritizing their budgets, and responsibly managing them so that there are funds for basic infrastructure needs – such as roads, schools, fire and police, etc. Citizens opposed to HOT lanes are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We do not understand why our leaders in Raleigh are selling-out our tax-paid roads to large for-profit entities. (Did I mention that at least three of the four private tolling companies bidding on I-77 are also foreign?)

~ Vallee Bubak, Proud Volunteer of WidenI77.Org

About Those $500 Million Strips of Asphalt

Update: Added graphic illustrating improvements.  Created by Vince Winegardner.  Thanks, Vince!

If you were at last night’s meeting you heard NCDOT officials say the proposed HOT lanes are expected to cost $550million.  We were told general purpose would only save about $50million. In other words, a general purpose lane solution would cost about half a billion.

As wideni77 has pointed out previously (and every commuter knows), the problem area is where the road necks down to four lanes total just south of exit 23.  We need to add a general purpose lane in either direction up to exit 36.  We don’t have recent cost estimates, but we’ve figured a ballpark number to add 26 total miles of asphalt (to an existing road) runs about $130million.

So why are NCDOT officials quoting something four times that?

Because we don’t have apples-to-apples.  The NCDOT folks assume a general purpose lane solution requires everything the toll lane solution does except the tolling equipment.

But that’s just not the case.

A look at the recently released RFP shows a number of expensive construction projects specific to HOT lanes.

A partial list:

Project

  • Replace bridges at:
    • Hambright Road
    • Westmoreland
    • Griffith
    • Oklawn Ave
    • I-77 SB over I-77 NB at the I-85 interchange
    • LaSalle St.
  • Construct new bridges:
    • A two lane HOT lane bridge from SB I-77 to just north of I-85
    • A two lane HOT lane bridge over I-85
    • A flyover to the I-277 median for one HOT lane in each direction
  • Remove existing pedestrian bridge just north of LaSalle

In addition, there’s a seemingly innocuous requirement to “modify or remove and replace Structures and access ramps” on the southern (downtown Charlotte) portion. That requirement could bring about more significant costs involving FEMA properties, an abandoned school, low-income housing and a cemetery.

This begs the question: what does any of the above have to do with moving traffic through Lake Norman?

When resources are scarce, fiscally-responsible people prioritize and spend money only on those things necessary.  Instead, the current plan finds Lake Norman residents once again subsidizing improvements in Charlotte.

 

Remember the Cornelius Resolution?

Remember this past January when the Cornelius Town Board passed a resolution requesting the Lake Norman Transportation Commission (LNTC) study alternatives to HOT lanes? Ever wondered what happened to it? In light of the LNTC’s upcoming meeting, I thought I’d share some status.

On Feb 13th, LNTC Exec Director Bill Thunberg responded to the request, saying the LNTC met to discuss.   We need a bit of context.

The resolution has five parts.  In summary, it requests the LNTC to:

1)     Look at the feasibility of widening I-77 from exit 23- exit 28 w/GP lanes

2)     Provide cost estimate, project timeline and plausible funding options

3)     Develop an operational life expectancy for each option

4)     Conduct the research in a timely fashion

5)     Ask the NCDOT to review its analyses prior to making a decision

The LNTC has committed to look at potential funding mechanisms and regulatory issues, but declined to provide cost estimates, timelines and operational life because they felt they lacked the expertise.  They committed to completing the study within 45 days and sharing the results with NCDOT.

Mr. Thunberg’s response also seemed to imply a green light was needed from the town.  I asked about this and was told about the only response needed was “Ok Bill, do your best.”

Obviously, we’re hopeful that the study demonstrates a path forward to GP lanes.

We’re hopeful, but realistic.  Unfortunately, the resolution only considered five miles of road, and we know the state is viewing the corridor as an integrated solution.  So even if feasible, the state could easily discount it.

But even more germane, the LNTC is not a fan of GP lanes.  In April 2010 they voted their support of toll lanes (I know- I was there).  Last month they hosted an information meeting with a “managed lanes expert.”  This Wednesday they’re hosting another with the same expert + a “P3 financing expert”.  (Are YOU going to be there?)

With that in mind, I’m wondering if it’s possible to be both hopeful and pessimistic?

Here is the text of Director Thunberg’s response:

The Lake Norman Transportation Commission received and reviewed your resolution regarding the widening of I-77.  The Commission asked that I share the results of that review and seek your direction.  On item #1, it is the Commissions judgement that the Commission is capable and has the resources available to fulfill that request.  On item #2, it is the Commissions judgement that we lack the capability and the resources required to produce cost estimates for each project and the timelines.  It is, however, within the Commission capability to identify plausible funding options and outline the necessary regulatory and legislative approvals.  On item #3, it is the Commissions judgement the request exceeds the Commissions capability and resources.  On item #4, the goal is to complete the task within 45 days and share the results with NCDOT at your request.  If this is satisfactory, please advise and note if there is an item that is of particular importance.

Even if Toll Lanes Are Successful…

The following was submitted by William Rakatansky, former Cornelius Commissioner.

There’s been a lot of discussion about whether the proposed High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes on Interstate 77 will have any meaningful effect on congestion.  In order to bring some clarity to this issue, let’s look at toll lanes both in the short- and long-term.

Let’s assume the I-77 toll lanes get built and become operational in 2017, and between 2013 and 2017 traffic volume increase by 10 percent.  Since I-77 presently carries around 80,000 vehicles a day, then another 10 percent usage will up this figure to about 90,000 vehicles per day.

Now let’s also assume that it will take about 10 years for the public to accept the toll lanes, and then they become a resounding success.  How will the toll lane operator maintain the contractual minimum speed of 45mph? By increasing the price of the tolls as congestion grows.  How high can the tolls go?  No-one knows for sure since there is no stated limit on the cost of the tolls, but the real issue is that there is this tight balancing act that the toll lane operator must juggle: ENCOURAGE toll lane usage, but not allow the lanes to become congested.  Therefore, once the toll lanes start their path towards congestion, what must the toll operator do?  Raise tolls.

So in a successful toll lane operation, the toll lane operator will be DISCOURAGING usage to keep the speed at a minimum of 45 miles per hour.  Where do the discouraged drivers go?  Anywhere else that will allow them to avoid high tolls.  As a result, one of the major options for these discouraged drivers will be using the “free” lanes, thus adding “insult to injury” to the congestion already existing in those lanes.  This will then result in greater congestion for longer periods of time, all the while, normal congestion due to population growth will also be increasing.  Once people get tired of the “free” lane congestion, they will be tempted to use the collateral, companion roads of Highway 21, State Route 115 and possibly Beatties Ford Road.  This will have an aggregating effect on the smooth flow of traffic on these very limited roads, as they presently have only one lane of travel in each direction.  This will then lead to congestion of these other roads into and out of Charlotte for the potential projected population for the North Mecklenburg / South Iredell region of over 250,000 people.

So the answer to the question of whether the toll lanes will increase congestion, is that in the “short term”, not necessarily.  But in the “long term”, the answer is a resounding YES, congestion will increase for both the toll lanes and the “free” lanes. This is just common sense.

Another way of putting it is that the term often used to describe the toll lanes: “managed lanes” means that the toll lane operator will up the dial on the cost to discourage drivers out of the toll lane and into the General Purpose “free” lanes.  Nothing is done to help congestion. It only helps the person desperate enough to pay the high fee to travel at 45 miles per hour or less.

The other piece of the equation is that the latest proposed contract with the toll lane operator has a clause stating that any additional lanes needing to be added to I-77 to alleviate congestion, must be toll lanes, otherwise the State (meaning the taxpayers) will be subject to a penalty or the possibility of the toll lane operator suing the State for lost revenues.  The collateral roads, on the other hand, may be widened without penalty or the toll operator suing the State for lost revenue.  But the chances of the collateral roads being widened while the toll lanes are congested are strictly dependent upon the MUMPO ranking of these roads, which is heavily weighted by Charlotte representative votes.  And this entire scenario will keep in force for 50 years, unless the State (meaning the taxpayers) decides to buy back the additional lanes built by the operator, at a substantial profit to the operator, and loss to the State.

Therefore, any thinking person should have no choice but to oppose the toll lanes on I-77.

I-77 Charrette More of a Charade

The following letter appeared in this week’s Huntersville Herald in the Opinion section.

I-77 Charrette More of a Charade

Editor,

A citizen information meeting billed by Mayor Jill Swain as a charrette on the HOT lanes was held last Wednesday at the Huntersville town hall.

Charrettes are organized to encourage the participation of all. That includes everyone who is interested in the making of a development: the developer, business interests, government officials, interested residents and activists.

Is that why the meeting was held at 2:30 in the afternoon, when most of the folks who will use this road were at work?

Widen I-77, a citizen advocacy organization that has done extensive research on HOT lanes, was not allowed to present information at this meeting. Who will give the non-government side of the story? Is the Huntersville town board just shills for the government project?

The timing and format of the meeting more closely represented a charade (an absurd pretense intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance). The so-called experts touted by Mayor Swain from the N.C. DOT – and they very well may be experts – work for the government, so they may favor the solution the government came up with. Why would the mayor dismiss the expertise and experience of those who have put in hundreds of hours researching this issue?

The Lake Norman region has not seen any road improvements since the highway was built. Other areas of the state have seen road improvements which encourage economic development. Why, after years of being neglected, do the citizens of this major transit corridor have to pay a toll for adequate roads?

The Huntersville Board of Commissioners needs to stand up for us and pass a resolution to study alternatives to the HOT lanes.

– Mark Gibbons, Huntersville

NCDOT: Technology for Determining Vehicle Occupancy Doesn’t Exist

One of the key provisions in the HOT lane model is allowing high occupancy vehicles to use the HOT lanes for free.  Proponents tout how this encourages carpooling and increases person per lane throughput.  For HOT lanes to work financially, “high occupancy” has to be three or more persons per vehicle (HOV 3+).  Therefore, occupancy verification is critical to project success.

Many residents have been asking how the electronically tolled HOT lane system will detect vehicle occupancy, a technology known as Automated Vehicle Occupancy Verification (AVOV).  The answer, at least up to this point, is that we’ll have to wait and see what comes back in the proposals.

But wideni77 recently received a response from the NCDOT that states “it appears the technology has not been perfected for reliable use as an enforcement tool.”

(At this point we need to pause a moment and commend the folks at Division 10.  They gave a detailed and candid answer, unlike their Raleigh counterparts last week.)

NCDOT mentions that, when the technology is available, they will be ready to deploy it. And let’s be honest-  the technology probably will be perfected at some point over the next 50 years.

But it doesn’t exist today.  They go on to quote their technical consultant:

In short, current technology does not allow for automated occupancy detection.  In order to simplify the enforcement requirements in the field, some agencies have elected to pursue a registration-based system (e.g., Miami’s I-95 Express and Atlanta’s I-85 Express Lanes) and others have elected to use a switchable transponder (e.g., Los Angeles’s I-10 / I-110 Express Lanes and Virginia’s I-495 Express Lanes).

In fact, AVOV has been tried in only a single location (I-15 in San Diego) using roadside infrared cameras “but the findings were very disappointing.”

So how do we prevent freeloaders?  The Virginia DOT (VDOT) tried saturation law enforcement, but found “current saturation enforcement techniques are not effective in reducing violation rates.”  That reinforced the consultant’s conclusion that “no proven technologies are currently available that offer the potential to automate enforcement of occupancy restrictions.”

Spending a bundle on law enforcement is ineffective, so we’re left with essentially the honor system of people switching their transponder or registering their carpool.

Without the technology, it seems the High Occupancy Toll lanes are better candidates to be toll lanes, period.  Everybody pays.  And another justification for HOT lanes falls by the roadside.