HOT lanes continue to confuse some drivers

The I-495 Express Lanes were billed as a solution to the congestion nightmare of the Beltway, but more than two weeks after they opened, it seems many drivers remain cold to the idea.

Dave Enke doesn’t use them.

“I’m not happy about the HOT lanes,” he says.

Like other drivers, Enke says the new lanes are confusing. They either don’t know where to go or are confused about paying a toll.

Operators of the HOT lanes are betting that’s not the case, but so far people aren’t paying much. Tolls are often less than $1 and the highest toll to date is $2.85, far less than the $5 or $6 high mark planners predicted.

“At this point we expected a ramp up period and we’re still in that ramp-up period now and we’re expecting that ramp-up period to continue for a while,” says Mike McGurk, Transurban spokesperson.

Planners insist the numbers are on the rise and all they have to do is look north to the Intercounty Connector for some reassurance. Since opening a year ago, the ICC in Maryland has seen a 3-percent rise in traffic each money with that so-called ramp-up period expected to last three years.

“I think they’re great,” says Kevin Piatt, who often commutes from D.C. to Loudoun County during rush hour via the HOT lanes. He says they’re not too expensive and they’re easy to navigate.

But what matters more than how people perceive HOT lanes now is whether they will catch on later.