HOT Lanes: Improving Travel Across the U.S.

Jan 9, 2012

The 495 Express Lanes are one of many high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes facilities in the United States.  HOT lanes have improved travel and provided benefits to drivers throughout the country – continue reading to learn more. 

HOT Lanes:  A History
1995 marked the launch of the first HOT lanes facility – SR91 Express in Los Angeles.  The project’s success garnered the attention of the U.S. Congress and the Federal Highway Administration, which endorsed the HOT lanes concept when it introduced the Value Pricing Pilot Program in 1998 under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.  In 2006, the federal government reinforced its support for HOT lanes through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act:  A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which has provisions specific to HOT lanes.  Today, states across the country are implementing HOT lanes to help ease congestion and deliver affordable infrastructure.

Why are state governments building HOT Lanes?
HOT Lanes:

  • Add capacity to existing roadways or maximize existing roadways; they create free-flowing networks for carpooling and transit
  • Provide a funding mechanism to enable states to deliver transportation improvements more quickly
  • Maximize existing right-of-way to minimize the impact on the surrounding environment
  • Promote quality of life by managing congestion and providing new travel options

Providing Benefits Across the Country

HOT lanes with variable toll prices provide faster, more reliable travel times.

  • A majority of I-15 users in San Diego believe tolls are an effective way to manage demand and report travel times on HOT lanes of 20 minutes per trip.
  • Average speed during the morning commute on the Katy Freeway in Houston, Texas, was 25 mph on the general-purpose lanes and 59 mph on the HOT lanes.
  • In Minneapolis, those using the express lanes generally experience a 20 mph increase in their speed, and those in the general purpose lanes have seen a slight increase in speed.
  • In Southern California, SR-91 customers estimate they shaved nearly 30 minutes off their morning and afternoon commutes.
  • Travelers save about 20 minutes per trip on HOT lanes on I-10 in Houston.
  • In Minneapolis, 76 percent of the public is satisfied with the HOT lanes, and 85 percent are satisfied with the traffic speed. 

Toll-paying customers on HOT lanes come from all income levels and most use the lanes infrequently.

  • Only 25 percent of toll-paying customers on SR-91 in Southern California are in the top income bracket.
  • 78 percent of lower-income motorists in San Diego support local HOT lanes.
  • Most HOT lanes users on SR-91 pay to use the lanes a few times a week when they need a faster or more reliable travel time.

HOT lanes encourage carpooling.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “HOT lanes can create financial incentives to make public transport and carpooling more attractive, while continuing to ensure congestion- free travel by these vehicles.”
  • Empirical data on I-15 express lanes in San Diego suggests that tolls encourage ride sharing.
  • Carpool rates have increased nearly 9.6 percent since the SR-91 HOT lanes opened in 1995.
  • In Minneapolis, “Carpools continue to use the lanes for free…and the express lanes move as fast as ever. When traffic is heavy, prices increase, making it more likely that solo drivers will find it too expensive to take the express lanes and that those choosing transit or carpools will not be stuck in traffic.”

HOT Lanes promote reliable bus travel.

  • In Minnesota, transit operators say the presence of more drivers in the express lanes has not slowed buses down, and buses have been able to move into and out of the lanes easily.
  • During the first year of HOT lanes operations in Denver, regional buses delivered riders to their destination on schedule over 96 percent of the time.