Friday, October 27, 2006

Opportunity Houston and HOV tolling

I usually assume my readers catch stories in the Chronicle (which is why I don't pass them along too often), but I want to make sure you catch a couple stories this morning. The first is the formal announcement of the Greater Houston Partnership's $40m Opportunity Houston campaign lead by Astros owner Drayton McLane, something I talked about a while back. They've raised $14m of the $40m and seem confident they can raise the rest. It's an ambitious program that could really take the Houston economy to the next level.

The strategic plan promises an enormous return on investment — creating 600,000 new jobs and attracting $60 billion in capital investments. The plan also aims to generate $225 billion in foreign trade. ...

Targeted industries include aviation and aerospace, energy and petrochemical, medical and biotechnology, information technology and nanotechnology.

The second is the front-page article on Metro looking at tolling the HOV lanes for single-occupant vehicles, something I've been advocating for a while. Robin and I both get quoted. My advice to Metro would be along three lines:
  1. If HOV/HOT lane expansion is considered (usually from one to two lanes), I think most spoke freeways in Houston would be better off with two lanes going one direction than one lane in each direction ("better off" meaning more demand and making more money). The contra-flow direction is rarely problematic on most Houston spoke freeways, the exception being the I10 Katy, but they already have a 4-lane tolled solution under construction for it. Two same-direction lanes would also allow passing, which is always helpful.
  2. Go all EZ-tag like the Westpark tollway. The buses and vanpools need to be free, but I think you need to charge for all other vehicles, including high-occupancy cars - otherwise you have to have human intervention counting which cars have enough people to avoid the tolls. Studies have shown that most HOV riders are related family members that would have ridden together anyway (spouses or parents with children), so they're not doing much to change behavior and really encourage carpooling - those riders are just getting a free perk. Tolling all cars is not only much simpler and makes more money, but it also encourages bigger carpools to split the fare among more riders. Right now, once you have your 2 or 3 riders, you're done, but if everybody pays the toll, you now have a strong incentive to fill that minivan/SUV if you can and make it as cheap as possible for each person. Reason's eminent transportation expert Bob Poole also advocates this approach.
  3. Do real-time pricing like San Diego if you can, where you sense traffic loads and adjust prices on the fly as needed. Otherwise, Mondays, Fridays, traffic accidents, and weather can all send people flocking to the HOV lane and overcrowding it. You just need an electronic sign at the lane entrances telling people how much they're going to be paying if they decide to hop in at that point.
It's a great idea that Houston really needs ASAP. The slow, measured approach is the right one with rail, but not this project. Let's hope this one goes on the fast track.

9 Comments:

At 8:59 AM, October 27, 2006, Anonymous Steve said...

I think we should be trying to get two-directional facilities in most corridors, not just on the Katy. Keep in mind that with continuing job decentralization and residential densification in the urban core, plus suburb-to-suburb commuting, it's quite likely we'll have high bi-directional commuting demand in most of our corridors eventually. Better to build them right the first time even if it's a little more difficult.

I believe this approach is already being planned for the US 290 corridor tollway. Variable tolls are being considered for the Westpark Tollway. METRO I think already has permission to use Westpark, they're just not doing it even though there's a string of park-and-rides / transit centers along it.

 
At 9:25 AM, October 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Houstons HOV lanes, the most expensive, least used roads in the world. Sure, turn them into toll roads, plant grass on them and turn them into parks, put train tracks on them for a rail system. Put them to some good use. Then give the guy that came up with them another big bonus for the most efficient waste of taxpayers money.

I'm glad to see that we are finally adopting the California style HOV lanes on I-10 that allow people to get on and off the HOV lanes to the freeway. Instead of dumping you into local traffic so that you have to work your way back onto the freeway.

 
At 11:13 AM, October 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

woah woah... if you make the HOV lanes 2 lanes, and make all cars pay, it isnt an HOV lane, which means the federal monies that were used to build the lanes would have to be paid back. Bad idea.

Your idea would simply create yet more toll roads around Houston. Maybe thats is what we need, but getting rid of the HOV lanes to do it seems wrong.

In addition, like the others said, getting rid of the contra flow lanes and making 2 way HOV lanes makes more economic sense. Encourage carpooling, and allow single occupancy vehicles to pay a toll.

 
At 4:29 PM, October 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the person who said they are a waste of money. Next time you are stopped in traffic and one of those long double buses goes by. Count the next 60-70 cars in front of you. That is how many extra cars would be stuck in traffic with you.

 
At 6:26 PM, October 27, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I don't disagree that jobs are growing the suburbs and we're getting more bi-directional commuting, but it's usually not enough to slow the contra-flow main/free lanes. So the buses will be fine using normal lanes, and nobody will be willing to pay a toll. Better to have as many lanes as possible operating in the direction of demand.

I believe the feds have recently loosened the rules on HOV lanes, which is why Metro is looking at it. We won't have to pay anything back as long as transit still uses them for free at high speed.

 
At 9:46 PM, October 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Drayton's idea include building himself another stadium on the taxpayers dime? Oh, that's right, these stadiums are supposed to be a boon to the local economy.

 
At 9:14 PM, October 28, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HOA foreclosures are increasing. Please sign on this petition if you want to help stop this American tragedy at http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?homeback

 
At 12:54 PM, October 31, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Letting single motorist on for a toll is not the solution. The HOV is crowed enough! I was on it this morning at 8 am and freeway traffic was flying past! And that was without a stalled car in HOV. Open them up and we won't have to be trapped in the HOV cage of cement.

 
At 1:28 PM, July 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think toll in HOV is good solution. HOV will be flodded with single motorist.

Rather make all Tool ways free for the carpool ;-)

 

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