High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes are found in two parts of Virginia; Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. They are intended to promote car sharing and to cut down on congestion. As well as being accessible by cars with at least two people inside, motorcycles are allowed to use them, as well as emergency vehicles, taxis, and buses.
High occupancy Virginia toll lanes which drivers pay to use if they are driving alone are coming to Hampton Roads this year. Now, the Virginia Department of Transportation says drivers may choose to pay more to use express lanes on much of Interstate 64 by 2024.
A recent report on WAVY.com noted VDOT will roll out its first high occupancy lanes in Hampton Roads on I-64 from I-264 to Naval Station Norfolk. The high occupancy lane will be built on an eight-mile stretch. VDOT said signs and testing will start in September.
High occupancy Virginia toll lanes have sparked a debate about the future of transportation in the region. However, Aubrey Layne, Secretary of Transportation said they are a better option than tunnel tolls, WAVY reported.
Layne said the tolls at the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels are “bad policy.” He said drivers have little choice other than to pay a “premium.”It’s not the same with so called HOT lanes, because of the element of choice, according to Layne. He said:
“Every time somebody chooses to use this lane, it frees up the other lane you were going to be in. Going forward, there will be a free alternative.”
Tolls are only imposed on drivers who use the lanes if they have no passengers in their vehicle. Vehicles with at least two people can ride the HOT lanes for free. They will use an E-ZPass Flex, a type of transponder that allows drivers to switch to a carpooling (HOV) mode.
The cost of the toll will depend on congestion and the speed at which drivers are traveling. Layne estimates the price will range from $1 to $2. Layne said express lanes could be built on the High Rise Bridge and around the Bowers Hill area of Chesapeake by 2021. He expects a tolling option on the expanded Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel by 2024. An express lane may also be installed north to Jefferson Avenue in Newport News.
How Effective Are High Occupancy Virginia Toll Lanes?
In 2015, the Washington Post reported on how the 495 Express Lanes opened on the Capital Beltway in 2012. Two years later, these HOT lanes linked up with the 29-mile long HOT lanes system on Interstates 95 and 395.
The Post article highlighted a source of frustration and a possible hazard around the nation’s capital. Solo drivers were drifting into the HOT lanes and switching back into the regular lanes before they passed under the first toll gantry. The impact of the move was slowing down traffic on the express lanes.
High occupancy Virginia toll lanes have the potential to reduce congestion in Hampton Roads if the technology is implemented properly. However, abuse of the system could result in greater confusion and wrecks.
“HOV lanes allow users to travel faster, while also freeing up congestion in regular lanes,” the Virginia Department of Transportation states.
The HOV lanes in Hampton Roads are found on three urban interstates. Hours of operation are posted on electronic signs. They are on I-264 in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, VA; on I-64 in Norfolk and Chesapeake and on I-64 in Hampton and Newport News.
The first HOV lanes opened in Virginia in the 1970s. But bikers, who argued motorcycles take up less room on the highway than cars, did not get a concession to use HOV lanes until 1992 and it took a concerted campaign by motorcyclists to persuade state legislators to change their minds.
Motorcyclists can use HOV lanes during the same times they are open to cars with at least two people inside.