High-occupancy-vehicle lanes, rail lines and bus routes are just a few of the past remedies offered for the headache of traffic jams and rush-hour delays. Some cities, however, are implementing a new solution to the metropolitan problem. The Associated Press recently reported that many highly congested areas are making the transition from HOV lanes to HOT lanes. The HOT, or high-occupancy toll, lanes afford HOV benefits to the solo driver – at a cost. Since 1996, with a payment of 50 cents during off-peak hours up to $8 at rush hour, San Diego drivers have had the option of cruising over to the HOT lane on Interstate 15 to accelerate the work commute. Buses and carpoolers, though, still ride for free. Also in Southern California, Orange County’s State Route 91 has given commuters the same option, where studies show the average rush-hour speed has increased from 15 mph to 32 mph. And lately the trend has been catching on across the country, as well. Houston has been on board almost as long. Earlier this year, Minneapolis converted some lanes of an 11-mile stretch of Interstate 394 to HOT lanes. At a peak-hour rate of $3.25, Denver has a HOT system that should be in place by the end of the year. And Seattle is flirting with the idea, as well as Washington, D.C., where planners hope to loosen the Capital Beltway gridlock in Virginia and Maryland. Virginia has proposed to let private firms build four new lanes on the Beltway to operate as HOT lanes. Privatizing freeway construction would eliminate the additional tax burden for residents. But that doesn’t mean everyone is overjoyed about express toll lanes. From Virginia to California, critics have said the HOT lanes are only for those who have deep enough pockets to afford them. For that reason, some have dubbed them “Lexus lanes.” However, San Diego has seen people from all tax brackets pulling out their wallets to cut time off their drive, the AP reported. In the long run, others argue, the congestion will catch up to HOT lanes just as it has with HOV lanes. But for now, the solution is cruising at a cost until time takes its toll.
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