METRO approves new budget

HOUSTON Have you ever been stuck in traffic on the freeway thinking, 'I would pay anything if I could just get out of this lane?' In a couple of years, you will have that option.

METRO voted to approve its proposed budget for the next fiscal year. One of the changes includes turning 84 miles of HOV lanes into high occupancy toll lanes or 'hot lanes.' This is similar to what was done on the Katy Freeway.

METRO allocated $20 million in federal money for the project which will roll out in 2012. The first freeway to get these lanes will be I-45 South. After the Gulf Freeway, others will be evaluated and outfitted with tolls.

The $2 toll charge will make better use of existing HOV lanes and give drivers a valuable service. Some drivers say that's too much to pay, while others say it's a dream come true.

"Our HOV lanes have a great return on investment, but only in the peak periods of the day for a lot of the day, they are underused, so we're saying rather than let them sit idle, why not let people who are willing to pay use them in those off hours?" said METRO CEO George Greanias.

"No I would not. It's too expensive," said driver Norma Christopher.

"Sure I would, considering Houston's traffic. Two dollars is probably worth the freedom you get, with the traffic, especially during the rush hour," said driver Priya Davuluri.

METRO's budget includes a 31 percent reduction and the board has promised there will be no service cuts, no layoffs and no rate hikes.

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