Houston to convert paid-for HOV lanes to toll lanes

Link to article here. In such an obvious tax grab, Houstonites can only get access to congestion relief if they have 3 or more people in their cars or if a single occupancy driver PAYS A TOLL for 100% paid for lanes. It’s all about big government show-me-the-money revenue-generating schemes.

TransCore has $38.7m construction, $8.46m/yr ops for 5 HOV-HOTs Houston TX
Posted on Thu, 2009-10-22 23:26
Toll Road News

TransCore has announced $81m worth of contracts with Houston METRO for conversion of five HOV corridors to HOT Lanes. Houston Metro board approved the contracts back on March 19 but we missed it. By any standard it’s a major toll systems contract, involving 52 toll points and some 47 access/egress points on five highways that involve occupancy verification for HOVs and dynamic pricing for tollpayers.

TransCore won the contracts in competition with Raytheon and ETC.

One contract is for $38.7m to design, provide and install a High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lane system in the middle of five radial freeways in the Houston metro area. The other contract is for five years of operations and maintenance at $8.46m/year for a total of $42.3m.

There’s a separate contract for civil construction works for $8.94m with ISI Contracting, making upfront capital costs $48m. 80% of this is coming from federal grants.

The HOT Lanes will be:

– I-45S Gulf Freeway 12 toll points

– US59S Southwest Freeway, 12 toll points

– I-45N, North Freeway, 11 toll points

– US290, Northwest Freeway, 10 toll points

– US59N, Eastex Freeway, 7 toll points

All are single lanes, reversible, closed at night and weekends, designed principally to provide extended peakhours congestion avoidance.see hours of operation table below

Dynamic pricing

US290 already has some toll equipment since its central lanes have been operated as HOT lanes at a flat toll rate of $2/trip since 2000. Toll equipment there will be upgraded. All five corridors will get dynamic pricing and be operated with tolls adjusted to manage traffic density and maintain minimum 50mph (80km/hr) speeds and 1500 veh/hr/lane throughput.

The Houston area already has 2×2 toll lanes on I-10 Katy Freeway to the west of downtown, operated by Harris County Toll Road Authority.

Brandnames

The five Metro HOT Lanes will get readers to read the eGo sticker tags (ISO 18000 6B) deployed under the brandnames EZ Tag and TxTag.

EZ Tag is the transponder issued by HCTRA, while TxTag transponders are issued in Central Texas (Austin area) and northeast Texas (Tyler).

Metro will issue its own transponders, brandname to be determined.

Video tolling will also be supported, vehicles without a transponder or a good transponder account will get their bills in the mail. That will be marketed under the sign “PAY BY MAIL”.

see signage nearby

Most of the operations costs contracted for will be the back office including accounts, billing, and customer service including a HOT Lanes webpage and other outreach. Also included is monitoring lane operations by video and other sensors, incident management and opening, closing and  reversing of lanes.

Toll revenues will belong to Metro.

ARGOs

Access points will have a total of 107 gates, 67 of them electrically powered and controllable nearby or remotely at the TranStar traffic management center, or by automatic operation according to a timing plan. All these gates will have 24 hour video coverage at the traffic management center.

Some are already in use as part of HOV operations, others must be supplied.

The gates have their own acronym ARGO – automatic reversible gate operation. A car that gets entangled in a closing gate will be an “ARGO Incident.”

Old eyeballed occupancy checking and cruiser pullovers

Each access point will divide into an HOV lane and a toll lane.

The HOV lane will have a monitoring booth for random visual checks of vehicle to see they have the required number of occupants for the free ride.

Enforcement staff at the booths will work by radio with police in cruisers downstream. There will be pullover zones for police to stop offenders and issue citations.

The contractor will supply a communications system between the eyeballers and the cops.

However the contract does provide for one location on US290 where the holy grail of automatic occupancy checking equipment can be pursued via tesing. TransCore is to nominate an experimental system for this location.

The design-build contract requires TransCore tobegin HOT Lanes operations by the end of 2010 and have the whole five highway system operating by th fall of 2011.

Conversion to HOT lanes is expected to increase utilization of the lanes by at least 50%, earn some net revenues and improve travel times and air quality.

Metro is a regional public transit authority that runs buses throughout the Houston region and more recently trolleys. The HOT lanes have their origins in exclusive bus lanes built in the 1980s. They were progressively converted into simple HOV or carpool lanes, then in a couple they charged a toll for HOV2 with HOV3+ free.

see http://www.ridemetro.org/Services/HOV_HOTLanes.aspx

COMMENT: this is a long overdue project that will make use of an underused system of HOV lanes.

Pity they can’t combine it with a widening to a minimum 2-lanes per direction.

We’re skeptical about single toll lanes because their speeds and throughput are set by the slowest motorist.

Slugs forming queues behind them hardly allow the kind of service that a toll should buy.

HCTRA set the standard for toll lanes in the region with the 2+2 lanes on the I-10.

TOLLROADSnews 2009-10-22

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