From HOV to HOT

HOUSTON Gerald Mackey, a delivery driver, spends a lot of time in traffic.

"Oh, probably about a hundred miles a day," he told us.

Still, he doesn't like the idea of having to spend his money to speed up his commute.

"I'm against it," said Mackey. "They already have enough toll booths to go through."

But that's exactly what METRO is proposing. On Thursday, they unveiled a new plan to convert HOV lanes in HOT lanes. The 'T' stands for 'toll.'

Under the proposal, five different corridors in the city would be converted -- the existing HOV lanes along 45 north and 45 south, 59 North and South, and most of Highway 290. METRO officials say it gives drivers more options.

"It would give them a choice, a choice to get on the HOV lane and pay a toll and get to the destination that they need to make," said Raequel Roberts with METRO.

Under the plan, the HOT lanes would be converted into two entrance lanes, one for single drivers who will need to use a transponder, and the other lane would be for multiple occupants who would go right through as normal.

Officials say the conversion would free up room on busy freeways and utilize under-used existing HOV lanes. But opponents say METRO is leaving out the facts, like the cost to the taxpayer and more important, the cost for the toll.

"I think they've gone about it badly and it's not promoted fairly to the public and they're not getting public info as they should," said Kelli Hill, who opposes the plan.

When pressed about how much the conversion will cost, the program director Rich Lobron responded with, "We are just in the process now of soliciting proposals, so you don't know what its going to cost."

"Congestion pricing" or "congestion charging" is becoming more common in big cities where officials are trying to ease gridlock and better manage space on commuter lanes. Another potential benefit from congestion pricing is less traffic on the road allows the remaining vehicles to operate at higher efficiencies, resulting in better gas mileage.

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