How to Stop Worrying and Love Lexus Lanes

Remember that dust-up several years ago when it was discovered Caltrans was not filling potholes or performing other routine maintenance on the 91 freeway linking Orange and Riverside counties? Seems that few other than Caltrans and the Orange County Transportation Authority knew about a non-compete clause that prevented such work because it would make the "free" lanes attractive to drive at the expense of "pay" (and perfectly paved) lanes. The controversy sprang to mind while reading about a survey calling such toll lanes "a proven time-saving next generation highway concept."

HNTB Corp., "an employee-owned infrastructure solutions firm serving public and private owners and construction contractors," boasts about the results of a survey it commissioned showing Americans, and by extension Orange Countians, love the idea of toll lanes being attached to existing "free" lanes. The HNTB's America THINKS survey finds:

  • Three in four of Americans (74 percent) would likely use toll lanes if given the opportunity.
  • Awareness of "priced-managed lanes" is low among Americans in general (less than 1 in 5, or 17 percent).
  • Two in three Americans (68 percent) would pay to save 15 minutes on roads, bridges or tunnels, $5 on average.
  • "When told about priced managed lanes," 7 in 10 (70 percent) think they should be considered when making improvements to U.S. highways.

Anyone else wonder what these folks were told?

Matters not, because as HNTB's Matthew Click says, "We can no longer build our way out of congestion" and toll roads have "successfully been piloted, tested and approved by the motoring public in a number of markets, including State Route 91 in Southern California."

Click concedes some critics have derisively called them "Lexus lanes," his survey shows "nearly 2 in 3 Americans (65 percent) think priced managed lanes are more of a useful option, choosing to use them when needed." The survey-taker's income mattered not in coming to that conclusion.

"There is no elitism," Click says. "A number of studies have shown everyone uses them when necessary. Plus, pulling traffic off general-purpose lanes also helps relieve congestion in those lanes. That means everyone benefits."

Agnes Huff of the private PR company HNTB hired to get media outlets like the Weekly writes in an email, "What's next for Orange County? The introduction of priced managed lanes in Orange County is changing the meaning of 'free' in 'freeway.' While toll roads and bridges are common across the country, having 'freedom of choice' to pay for a congestion-free trip is gaining support from motorists."

In my email reply, I asked why no questions to survey-takers were crafted around the no-compete clause controversy and who exactly is left holding the tar bag if revenue and ridership projections are not met.

"Thank you for your response and your comments," she wrote back. "If you are interested in addressing the current OC situation and the issues you mentioned, I can work to arrange a phone call for you with HNTB's Matt Click, so you can speak with him about the current issues and how the survey results may relate to the residents of Orange County."

I would but am afraid once Click was done with my I'd price manage myself right into Stepford.

Email: Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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