By Lisa Rein
A private company submitted a proposal to Virginia recently
to build and operate toll lanes along the interstate between
Washington and Massaponax, 56 miles south, in what would be
the most extensive network of its kind in the region.
The $1 billion plan from engineering firm Fluor Virginia
would allow solo drivers or two-person vehicles to buy their
way out of traffic. Additionally, if the state approves another
toll-lane plan that a sister company, Fluor-Daniel, has pending
for the Capital Beltway, motorists could drive toll lanes
70 miles from Georgetown Pike along the Beltway to a point
on Interstate 95 south of Fredericksburg.
The pay-as-you-drive-faster concept for Shirley Highway and
I-95, two of the region's most congested routes, underscores
the traction that high-occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes, have
gained as a salve for gridlock. Fluor's proposal to the Virginia
Department of Transportation will be in direct competition
with a similar, less ambitious plan for I-95 conceived last
fall by Clark/SCC/KPRI. The state transportation agency, which
encourages such public-private partnerships under a nine-year-old
law, will evaluate both plans over several months.
"We encourage and promote competition," Pierce
R. Homer, Virginia's deputy transportation secretary, said
yesterday. "There's a long road to go in terms of process."
Both ventures envision converting the reversible carpool
lanes along I-95 to reversible HOT lanes using shoulders along
the existing right of way. The lanes would head north during
the morning rush hour and south for the afternoon commute.
Drivers would pay tolls electronically, and charges would
vary with the time of day and degree of traffic congestion.
On average, tolls would cost 15 cents a mile under the Fluor
plan, company officials said. The lanes would remain free
to carpools with three or more people, to van pools and to
buses. Both plans would allow motorists to drive directly
to the Beltway on the HOT lanes.
The Clark group would convert carpool lanes to HOT lanes
south of the Springfield interchange and extend them 36 miles
nearly to Fredericksburg. Fluor, meanwhile, would start its
lanes at the 14th Street Bridge where it leaves the District
and stop them south of the Rappahannock River. The existing
carpool lanes on Shirley Highway and I-95 stretch 28 miles
from Washington to just south of Dumfries.
Fluor is calling its proposal a Bus Rapid Transit/HOT Lanes
System, touting the long-term potential for HOT lanes to improve
transit. The idea is to create a seamless web for express
bus service. Buses would share the road with other traffic
on the HOT lanes, but passengers would get on and off at stations
off the highway.
Fluor also envisions adding several park-and-ride lots for
passengers and carpoolers. Buses would use designated on and
Any approved project would be financed through bonds, which
would be paid off with toll revenues. But Fluor is also proposing
that $5 million in annual toll revenue be dedicated to expanded
Although VDOT will have the final say, local governments
from Alexandria to Spotsylvania County are likely to review
the HOT lane proposals. Fairfax endorsed the concept late
Fairfax Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) whose district
includes a stretch of I-95, said the longer the span of the
tolls lanes, the more appealing the plan will be to drivers
and bus riders.
"As long as transit is an integral part of the . . .
project, it could be a great boon," he said. "I
hope it is designed to ensure that buses can seamlessly use
If the state approves the Beltway proposal submitted last
year, VDOT would team up with Fluor-Daniel to build two HOT
lanes in each direction, stretching for 14 miles west of the
Springfield interchange to the Tysons Corner area, ending
just south of Georgetown Pike.
"We talked to every county and city up and down the
corridor, and they said, 'You need to bring the lanes inside
the Beltway because you're a captive once you're inside the
Beltway,' " said Gary Groat, a spokesman for Fluor.
Organizers of the Clark project, estimated to cost between
$400 million and $500 million, said they welcome the competition
from Fluor. They said their proposal did not include HOT lanes
inside the Beltway because the 14th Street Bridge has relatively
"We hail the competition and think it's healthy for
the industry," said James W. Atwell, a consultant for
the Clark group. He would not disclose the average cost of
tolls in the company's proposal, saying the information was
The Sierra Club has opposed the plan for Beltway HOT lanes
on the grounds that the highway would be widened, attracting
more vehicles to an already congested road. "When you
add new lanes, you get new traffic," said Roger Diedrich,
chairman of the group's Virginia chapter. He said he is reserving
judgment on the I-95 proposals until after he has studied
The competition to allow motorists to bypass congestion for
a fee reflects the concept's growing support among elected
leaders who have been unable to find significant solutions
to traffic congestion. In some places, HOT lanes have been
called "Lexus lanes" -- implying that they allow
wealthy drivers more options than drivers of more modest means.
Maryland's studies of HOT lanes were suspended by then-Gov.
Parris N. Glendening (D), who cited class issues. But the
administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has again
focused attention on them and is looking at HOT lanes as part
of several highway projects, including the proposed intercounty
connector, officials said.