Viewpoint

Congestion won’t be eased by I-77 toll lanes

Toll lanes could be an expensive failure for drivers on I-77.
Toll lanes could be an expensive failure for drivers on I-77. OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

From William Rakatansky, Widen I-77 board member, in response to “HOT lanes will improve traffic flow for all on I-77” (March 14):

Bob Morgan mentions I-85 and I-485 to suggest that toll lanes ease congestion. However, “easing congestion” is a general term to obfuscate details and truth about High Occupancy Toll (HOT Lanes).

I offer the following facts:

▪  I -85 and I-485 were widened to a total of 3 and 4 lanes each direction. The lanes added are General Purpose Lanes, which have greatly “eased” traffic congestion at peak hours. There is no HOT lane.

▪  Per North Carolina Department of Transportation consultant Stantec, travel time projections on I-77 in the existing general purpose lanes northbound, at peak hours, are approximately 40 minutes one way for 2018. NCDOT projects travel time in 2035 for the same trip will be approximately 35 more minutes, for a total of one hour and 15 minutes.

Considering traffic increases every year, and, historically in other areas with HOT lanes, approximately 15 percent of the total traffic will routinely utilize HOT lanes at peak hours. What about the remaining 85 percent in the general purpose lanes? These people will be stuck in ever-increasing traffic, including trucks, which take more room, take longer to stop/start, and will be prohibited from using the HOT lanes. Therefore, traffic congestion will not be “eased.”

▪  Per Stantec, dollar projections for tolls were for various times of the day. At peak hours in the morning, the tolls are projected for 2018 to be approximately $10 one way to Charlotte. In the afternoon peak hours, this same trip will cost $11. As an aside, tolls for I-95 in Miami have been raised to $14 one way, which is $2 per mile. Hence, tolls for I-77 are probably light, and higher tolls could be imposed.

Projected to 2035, tolls will total approximately $20 one way. If people choose not to pay the tolls, they will be stuck in heavy traffic on the general purpose lanes.

▪  The concept of HOT lanes assumes tolls will remain low when toll lane usage is low, and tolls rise when congestion exists in the general purpose lanes and entices use of HOT lanes.

If tolls get too high, people would not use them. If tolls are too low, that may entice usage of the HOT lanes, causing congestion on the HOT lanes. Per the NCDOT contract, a minimum speed of 45 mph must be maintained, otherwise Cintra would pay a penalty.

Therefore, the low tolls encourage use of the HOT lanes, and high tolls discourage use of the HOT lanes, hence guaranteeing traffic congestion in the general purpose lanes.

For Mr. Morgan to state that traffic congestion will be “eased” is over-arching and totally wrong.

Widen I-77 would be glad to debate the merits of the HOT lanes in April at the 2015 Transportation Summit in Charlotte, where Mr. Morgan’s contentions can be addressed.

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