4/24/2015

They're Called HOT Lanes Because They Make Your Life Hell

So here in the good old DC Area, they've been transitioning lanes on both Interstates into HOT lanes. For those not in the know (you lucky creatures, you) that stands for High Occupancy/Toll. Which means that you either have to have a specified number of people in your car (the High Occupancy option - 2 or 3, depending on which road you're using) or you pay a Toll. How much toll? Well, that depends on how bad traffic is. The worse traffic gets, the higher the toll.

I'll admit, we didn't pay a whole lot of attention when 495 went this route because it didn't impact us. However, when 95 started implementing them, we paid attention. Our initial thought was that it might not be so bad.

Until recently, there have been HOV lanes on 95 (high occupancy of 3 people required) and the hubs has availed himself of these by slipping into them early in the morning (the HOV part turned on at 6am, so if you got on at 5:30, you could be past the last exit, and therefore able to continue to your destination, by the time HOV clicked on) and repeating the process coming home (they turned on at 3:30 - so again, if you got in by 3:10ish, you would be past the last exit before your destination when the penalties for not having 3 in the car started.) And while he didn't love the "early schedule," it meant that he spent only ~40 minutes on either trip to or from work and when you live 27 miles from your office, that's not a terrible commute time. There were alternatives - a "late" schedule (go in after HOV turns off at 9, come home after 6:30 when it turned off) and "slugging", wherein you pick up random strangers during prime commute time and drop them off at specified locations. The problem with slugging is the extra time added to your commute - it makes it a solid hour and fifteen by the time you've gone to the commuter lot, gotten people, dropped them, and then wiggled through the horrific off-Interstate traffic from the drop off point to your office. But still, in a pinch when you needed those prime hours, it worked.

Now? Now, you are well and truly f'd, no matter what you choose.

Slugging works basically the same way - and (bonus?) it's still free. But it's also still 75-80 minutes door to door.

The early and late options are gone. Poof. Because the toll is always on. Always. On. So while the price may be lower super early in the morning, you still pay a minimum of about $3, which will translate to a minimum of $30 a week. And that's if they don't decide that traffic is bad enough to hike up the price. Which they inevitably do. So realistically it's $50-$80 a week, and I don't know about you, but we don't happen to have that much extra dosh just lying around to throw into VDOT's coffers.

Throw in the bonus that the a-holes in Arlington didn't get on board with the HOT lane project and so half-way up, you're back in the main lanes with all the traffic unless you have three people in your car.

So, the new and current plan is for him to go in around 10:30 and leave for home around 7:45. Which, if you're keeping score, means he'll only see the kids in the morning, since they get up at 7a.m. But if you have a brain that you use, you'll piece together that when one gets home at 8:30 at night, you don't go to bed at 10 so that you can be up at 7. No, you stay up til midnight or one and then sleep 'til 8:30 or 9, at which point you have to throw on clothes and rush to work, so there's no quality time with your family in that circumstance.

And if the undercurrent of my post that you're picking up on is frustration, you'd be right. Is there a solution? Other than moving out of the area, I'm not sure what it'd be.

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