HOT lanes open up on Gulf Freeway today

February 20, 2012 10:30:37 AM PST
Single passengers in cars can now use the HOV lane on the Gulf Freeway. But drivers will have to pay a fee to use the so-called HOT lane.

Almost anyone who has been stuck on the Gulf Freeway has wished for a way to get out of traffic and now they officially have a new option.

A week ago was the soft launch of the high occupancy toll lanes, known as HOT lanes. The name is a little deceptive, but here's what the lanes do. They turn the 83 miles of HOV lanes into pay-as-you-go lanes, even if you are driving alone. METRO held its ribbon cutting ceremony earlier this morning.

Mike Robinson knows all about sitting in traffic on the Gulf Freeway.

"It's pretty bad, especially in the morning because I come from Texas City all the way to The Heights. Sometimes it takes me an hour and 15-20 minutes just to get to work," Robinson said.

Robinson is exactly the kind of driver for whom METRO's new high occupancy toll lanes were created. The HOT lane program allows drivers without passengers to use the HOV lanes for a price.

The cost ranges from $1 to $4.50 depending on the time of day. Commuters tell us that's money they are happy to spend.

"I would definitely use. I mean the traffic here is really bad and I don't mind paying if I can get to work quicker," driver Jordan Brister said.

"It's a lot of traffic so I think it's gonna help a lot," driver Salvador Gomez said.

But there is a catch, during weekdays from 7 to 8am inbound and from 4 to 6pm outbound, only drivers with passengers can use the lanes, leaving solo drivers just the main lanes at the heaviest traffic times.

It is also a no-cash program, so you have to have a Harris County EZ tag, one of METRO's new HOT lane tags, or a Dallas North Texas tollway tag to enjoy life in the fast lane.

"For people trying to get to and from work, that'd save them a lot of time sitting as far as sitting in traffic," Robinson said.

This is the first of five corridors in the Houston area that are going to have the HOT lane. Coming up next is Interstate 45 North, U.S. 59 North and South and then U.S. 290. All of that is supposed to be done by Spring 2013.

Eighty percent of the funds for this came from federal grants. It was a $67 million project for the entire thing.

When traffic is congested, using the lane can save up to 11 minutes, according to METRO. But we want to hear from you. If you took the new HOT lanes today, log onto our Facebook page and tell us how it went.

To learn more about the HOT lanes, visit METRO's website.