Pay a Fee, Cruise in Special Traffic Lanes

ByABC News
July 8, 2005, 9:30 AM

WASHINGTON, July 17, 2005 — -- Lisa Snell is willing to pay a toll ranging from $1 to $7, depending on the time of day, to share a "high-occupancy toll" lane with carpoolers and shave an hour off her solo Los Angeles-area commute.

"When you think of things -- like you have to get home for baseball, gymnastics, all the extracurricular activities, do homework with the kids, you know -- it can make a huge difference in your family life," she said.

Some call the "H-O-T" lanes "Lexus lanes," meaning only the wealthy can afford them. But those who have studied the California H-O-T lanes, including Robert Poole, founder and director of transportation studies at the Reason Foundation, disagree.

"The vast majority of users," Poole said, "are ordinary people, even sometimes low-income people, who use it maybe once a week or twice a week on those particular days when they really have to be some place on time."

At least 22 states are looking at either H-O-T lanes or other kinds of toll roads to help relieve congestion.

The federal gas tax, which traditionally pays for new and improved highways, falls far short of what's needed. It hasn't been raised since 1993.

"The tolls themselves pay for the toll roads," said Jack Hartman, director of the Illinois Tollway. "We have a 274-mile system that is solely dependent upon tolls. We get no federal money for it. We get no state money for it."

Minneapolis just converted its often-empty carpool lanes into HOT lanes. Carpoolers still use them for free. Single drivers will pay from 25 cents to $8.

"Every three minutes, the toll will adjust itself according to how much traffic is in the lane," said Kevin Gutknecht of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. "It could go up, or it could go down."

In the future, drivers may find that quicker, easier commutes come with a price.

ABC News' Lisa Stark originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" July 4, 2005.