Friday, September 23, 2011

The screwed-up philosophy behind ‘managed lanes’

The "logic" of it is to help the haves, on the backs of the have-nots. SOP (Standard Operating Procedure).

8:34 am September 23, 2011, by Jay

I have never understood the logic behind these so-called “managed lanes,” also known as Lexus lanes. Take the new project about to open on I-85 north of the Perimeter.

Here’s the theory:

You take an existing lane of interstate highway, an expensive piece of infrastructure that has already been built and paid for by taxpayers both rich and poor through gasoline taxes. You cordon that lane off, allowing access only to those who are willing and able to pay extra to use what they’ve already paid for once.

The idea, we’re told, is that even in the worst traffic, those who can afford the extra cost will be able to buy themselves a free-flowing trip at a minimum of 45 mph. And you accomplish that by raising tolls so high that by design, most people won’t be able to use it. As AJC reporter Ariel Hart notes in a story in today’s newspaper:

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of hundreds of pages of documents associated with the project and interviews with outside experts shows the project is expected to increase traffic in the regular lanes in order to to keep the HOV toll lane flowing.

The state’s own traffic and revenue study says the regular lanes are expected to gain up to 90 new vehicles per lane, per hour during rush hour, and at one location 120, making for traffic volumes of about 1,200 to 1,500 cars per hour in each lane.

However, the study insists drivers won’t notice.

Sarah Tabares, who drives I-85 daily on the way to her job at a coffee house on Indian Trail Road, scoffed at the notion that adding yet more cars to the “parking lot” she encounters on the roadway won’t make a difference she can feel. “They’re full of [it],” she said. “I can tell what season we’re in just by the traffic.” And she doesn’t understand why the state would fund a project that leaves most of the roadway’s drivers in the lurch. “I think it defeats its purpose,” she said.

In addition, the money recovered through tolls doesn’t pay for the expensive cameras and other equipment installed to convert the lane. Even worse, it doesn’t even cover the cost of operating that equipment. That additional infrastructure and operating cost is also paid by taxpayers.

So the average commuter stuck in traffic, with nothing but a sea of red brake lights ahead, can look to his or her left and see a free-flowing lane that he or she has paid to build, using equipment that he or she paid to install and operate, and know that BY DESIGN he or she has been priced out of using it.

And this is supposedly a good thing. It is such a good thing that the DOT plans to install a network of such lanes on interstates throughout the region, at considerable taxpayer expense. In most cases they will convert existing HOV lanes to Lexus lanes. In the case of the I-75 and I-575 corridor north of the Perimeter, the state this week sought bids from private companies to build an extra lane and operate it as a managed toll lane. But once again, the project won’t come close to paying for itself. Taxpayers will have to kick in an estimated $300 million to subsidize it.

How and when did this get accepted as a good idea?

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