METRO delays vote on HOT lanes plan

March 19, 2009 9:35:18 AM PDT
METRO officials are delaying the vote on a plan to give solo drivers more choices when it comes to battling gridlock on Houston's highways. It involves converting 83 miles of HOV lanes into toll lanes. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

METRO hopes to kick off the project later this year. Some HOV lanes would be converted to toll lanes along parts of the Northwest, North, Southwest, Eastex and Gulf freeways. But some people aren't happy with the plan.

The METRO board had expected to vote on the proposal Thursday, but the committee that's been working on this project has voted to delay that vote until next month. That doesn't mean the deal is dead. In fact, it will most likely pass.

In the thick morning fog, the METRO park and ride lot quickly filled up, and while most drivers say they like the convenience of riding the bus into town, some sure would like the option of driving solo in the HOV lane.

"I'm a bus rider, but there are days because of all the material I'm taking to work with me, I can't ride the bus practically," said METRO rider Maryanne Miller. "So I'd love to be able to pay to drive on the HOV lane."

Commuters may soon get that option, if METRO successfully converts 83 miles of HOV lanes into high occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes. Depending on traffic flow, single drivers can pay to drive on HOV lanes.

"We have unused capacity on these lanes at certain times of the day and it gives us another option to get cars out of the main lanes," said METRO spokesperson Raquel Roberts. "And in some instances, if you're late for an appointment, it might be worth paying the toll to get where you need to go."

But not everyone likes the idea of paying for the privilege of driving.

"It'll be congested," said METRO rider Ricky Lee. "If a single driver can drive the HOV lane, then what's the use of having the HOV lane?"

Still, after two years of planning, METRO expects to use tens of millions of federal stimulus dollars to convert the roads. The board says the process could take until 2011 when you'll get the chance to pay to drive.

The prices on the tolls haven't been set yet. That still has to be decided.

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