EXPRESS LANES:I-64 Hampton Roads VA
By Peter Samuel
The toll express lanes are proposed in an existing 2-lane reversible and barriered HOV-2 facility that runs for 11km inside a 6-lane section of I-64 from the main gate of Norfolk naval base and its spur I-564 at the north end to an interchange with I-264 and VA-44, the Norfolk-Virginia Beach Expwy, at the south end. The 3/2/3 facility is currently running an average of 135k vehs/day projected to grow to 172k vehs/day in 2015. $120m was spent by the Federal Government to build the central HOV-2 facility which opened in 1992. It is a beautiful piece of highway construction with shoulders both sides and full Jersey barrier protection, excellent slip entries and exits and monitored gate systems for managing the twice daily reverse of flow.
It is a waste the way its operating. It just isnt attracting enough ridership. Everyone has worked extremely hard to encourage carpooling but the numbers have plateaued out and may even be slipping back, while the mixed lanes are increasingly overloaded. We have to find a better way to use these assets, says Farmer, who wants to start the ball rolling to study different options for managing the roadways better than the current HOV.
Traffic counts we obtained from VDOT back him up. The I-64 HOV lanes are only carrying 375 veh/lane/hr during 6.5hrs of HOV-2 operation compared to 1745 veh/lane/hr in the conventional lanes alongside. Passenger counts show HOV lanes with a 2.05 average occupancy carrying 770 pas/lane/hr and regular lanes with 1.1 occupants/veh carrying an average 1,920 pas/lane/hr.
In the peak hours 6:15 to 7:15 and 3:45 to 4:45 its no better. In the am peak hour the HOV-2 lanes carry 467 veh/lane compared to the conventional lanes 1826 vehs/lane and in the pm peak 548 to 2084. In short the regular lanes carry four to five times the vehicles and over twice the number of passengers per lane as the HOV lanes.
Fiasco: The HOV program is sold as a way of carrying more people per lane, not less. The project as now operating is a fiasco! Five years of efforts to build carpooling on I-64 have not produced enough HOVers to justify a single Houston-style reversible HOV lane let along the twin-lane setup they have. The taxpayers money is now sunk in the facility, and the challenge is how to make the best of the folly. These lanes easily have a capacity of about 1,300 to 1,500/vehs/lane/hr in fullspeed reasonable free flow (LOS-C as defined by the Highway Capacity Manual) and the HOV-2 regime is producing only about 500. The I-64-HOV is hardly one-third utilized and 800 to 1,000 veh/hr/lane could be admitted without detriment to level-of-service (LOS).
Most likely in any Express Lanes buy-in on I-64 the highway managers would move cautiously, limiting SOV-passes to say 500 to begin with. The idea clearly needs to be fully studied and professionally modelled. A possible parallel for Hampton Roads is I-15 in San Diego, also an existing underutilized 2-lane reversible where 500 SOV monthly passes sold out in a few hours when the HOV was converted to HOT lanes earlier this year. That facility is now moving to e-toll transponders to allow more flexible pricing and administration (see next issue).
Allowing single occupant vehicles to buy-in to the HOV facility could allow the whole highway to operate more efficiently, with better balance between the three roadways. The facility obviously needs to be managed so that the HOT lanes flow better than the regular lanes roadway to preserve the incentive for motorists to carpool or pay an SOV-toll. But the current 4/1 imbalance presently existing between the regular and HOV on I-64 is wastefully large. Reducing the discrepancy by SOV buy-in would relieve congestion in the regular lanes by taking out those in sufficient hurry to pay the toll, offer motorists more choice, and raise some much-needed revenue some return on the $120m investment made in its construction.
The southern end of the 3/2/3-configured I-64 feeds into VA-44 east and I-264 westward. VA-44 going east to Virginia Beach is a 10-lane highway, running 160k veh/day for several km. The inside pair of lanes in the 5/5 road are HOV-2 simple one-way lanes just striped off from the regular lanes. The HOVs on VA-44 are just about as underutilized as those on I-64, running a similar ratio of between a quarter and a fifth the vehicles and less than half the passengers of each of the unrestricted lanes, so a study of HOT options for I-64 could well encompass VA-44 as well. Construction is underway along I-64 south of VA-44 widening it to a 4/4 configuration with the inside lanes currently planned to be striped HOV.
Early $s not big: Congestion is currently not bad at least not by California or northern VA standards on the recently built facilities (mostly LOS-D in the peaks) so immediate potential for SOV-tolls may not be large but the area is growing in population (2m expected by the 2010s) and traffic, and it faces vast expenditures improving the many wide and deep Bay crossings and also the 120km long connections to the interstate network needed for the port to prosper. So the option to move toward various kinds of road pricing will build (see nearby item).
The local transp chief Dwight Farmer sees all this and is keen to advance studies of the options. He will need the support of the Virginia DOT which runs the major highways. David Gehr the state commissioner has expressed a very cautious attitude toward the idea of express lanes saying he does not want to discourage carpooling (which is not at all the idea of HOT lanes). But Gehr has staff in his department beginning to gather information on the California and Texas HOT projects. By chance Virginia already has a Katy Fway Houston HOT lanes expert, Julie Rush of Parsons Brinckerhoff in Richmond doing up a major investment study for VDOT of the I-64 corridor on the Peninsula between Richmond and Newport News. But even if PB, that little NY engineering group, has an inside leg on this one, theres a ton of work to go round in this challenging area. (Dwight Farmer 757 420 8300)