Whether its rush hour in Hartford, attempting the merge from I-91 to I-95 in New Haven, or travelling any stretch of I-95 almost any time, the hard red taillights of traffic grinding to a halt are all too familiar to many Connecticut motorists.

It isn’t just anecdotal frustration. According to the INRIX National Traffic Scorecard, the New Haven-Milford and East Hartford-Hartford-West Hartford corridors were the 43rd and 45th most congested in the country in 2009, respectively . In fact, the I-91 southbound route in New Haven jumped from the 62nd worst bottleneck in America in 2008 to the 6th worst in 2009 .

American drivers spend 3.7 billion hours stuck in traffic every year. But those are just speed bumps compared to the economic cost, which is estimated at $63.1 billion per year .

The State’s attempts to remedy traffic gridlock have been stalled somewhere between ineffectual and utter failure. There have been numerous studies, a Transportation Strategy Board, and millions of dollars spent trying to get things moving again, all to little avail.

One potential solution that hasn’t gained much attention is the idea of turning the state’s pointless and frustrating high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes into so-called HOT Lanes – high occupancy toll lanes.
Numerous other regions across the United States have implemented these express lanes, which allow high occupancy vehicles to use them for free, as is standard now, plus opening them up to single occupant vehicles, too – at a price. Using an electronic toll collection system like EZ-Pass, drivers can bypass gridlock without ever slowing down.

Electronic tolling provides the system with its other major feature – the ability to control how much traffic uses the lane by charging variable rates depending on the time of day or number of cars on the highway. By scaling the price of the supply to the demand, the tolls not only raise revenue for the State but also keep traffic moving smoothly.

HOT lanes are already in place in California, Colorado, Florida, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Minnesota with additional ones being added in North Carolina, Washington, Oregon, and Georgia . The benefits from these express lanes aren’t limited to those patronizing the lanes. The shift of traffic from the normal lanes to HOT lanes helps traffic flow better for everyone – not just the paying customers. Travel time reliability is another key feature as commuters are able to more accurately predict travel times .

The benefits of HOT lanes aren’t just for drivers. One study found “a reduction in harmful pollutants, decreases in greenhouse gas production, improved travel time for buses, and a decreased number of crashes” on highway systems with such lanes.

One of Connecticut’s economic strengths has always been its strategic location between New York and Boston. In addition to improving the quality of life for residents, reducing traffic gridlock helps to capitalize on this advantage to jumpstart Connecticut’s economy. Mixing market forces with innovative new transportation ideas like HOT lanes will get people moving on the road to recovery.

Authored by Heath W. Fahle on May 18, 2010 for Publication by Connecticut News Junkie.  Fahle is the Policy Director for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy.