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Prince William Residents Turn Wary Eye To HOT Lanes

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Residents and lawmakers in Prince William County aren't necessarily as enthusiastic about new High Occupancy Toll lanes as state lawmakers.
Pete Thompson
Residents and lawmakers in Prince William County aren't necessarily as enthusiastic about new High Occupancy Toll lanes as state lawmakers.

Construction of High Occupancy Toll [HOT] lanes along the Capital Beltway in Virginia is nearly complete. Now, the commonwealth is preparing to finalize a deal for more HOT lanes along Interstate-95 from Stafford County into Fairfax. 

State leaders say will complete a network of faster moving traffic throughout the region, but local leaders and residents aren't quite so excited about the billion-dollar deal.

Under the agreement, private contractor Fluor Transurban -- the same company constructing the beltway HOT lanes -- will construct the I-95 HOT lanes and pay the bulk of the $1 billion price tag. In exchange, they'll have control of tolling revenue for 73 years. 

"And our users of the highways will get to make a choice, whether they want to use HOT lanes of general purpose lanes," says Virginia Department of Transportation commissioner Greg Whirley. "By going in HOT lanes it will definitely reduce their commute times." 

No county will be as affected by the new lanes as Prince William, and the county's highest-ranking elected official, Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart, is hardly a cheerleader for it. 

"Well, we never really liked the project," he says. "I'm personally not sure it was a good idea for the state."

Stewart worries tolls could be exorbitant, and he isn't crazy about the extended length of the deal. But he applauds the state's decision not to put HOT lanes on Interstate-395. Stewart says that decision will help preserve the thriving carpooling tradition in his county, informally known as "slugging." 

"You'll have to continue to carpool or use the bus to use I-395, and to that extent I'm not as concerned as I once was about the impact on slugging," Stewart says.

But some commuters aren't so sure. Woodbridge resident Ebony Sloan commutes on I-95 just about everyday. "Personally I think it may actually may end up making us have more single drivers, and making us have less sluggers and more cars on the road," she says. 

And Stewart Schwartz with the Coalition for Smarter Growth points out that it's not as if you have to lose all sluggers before the system becomes unreliable. 

"You know if you start losing people who like to drive and pick up sluggers, and x number of sluggers, will the system become so inconsistent that people will just throw up their hands and drive on their own," he says. 

Schwartz says the Virginia General Assembly should demand more data before the HOT lanes deal is finalized, but right now, it seems local leaders and commuters have little chance to get an answer to that question before seeing HOT lanes in action.

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