The state of Virginia executed a contract with an Australian company on July 31 designed to discourage ride sharing and ensure congestion on major commuter routes until after the year 2085. A cleverly worded "non-compete" provision buried in a massive contract document puts taxpayers on the hook for paying monetary damages to toll road operator Transurban if the state decides within the next 73 years to expand the free lanes on Interstate 95, improve the highly congested Route One corridor or make driving easier on the Occoquan Bridge.
Transurban began construction last month on the Interstate 95 High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane project which will run 29 miles from Garrisonville Road to Edsall Road without actually adding to the highway's current space. Instead, the project will rearrange the layout of the existing High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, which are now available for any driver to use for free during off-peak hours. Though Transurban will allow vehicles with three or more occupants to continue to use the space when the HOT lanes open, impromptu carpool arrangements will no longer be possible. Those interested in sharing a ride must first register and buy an E-ZPass "Flex" transponder which has a switch the driver must flip to indicate carpool use. The stated purpose of the high occupancy lanes is to encourage ride sharing, but Section 5.07 the tolling agreement specifically discourages such sharing. Should the number of carpoolers exceed the threshold of 35 percent of HOT lane users, state taxpayers would have to pay Transurban a fine equal to 70 percent of the toll for each of the cars exceeding the threshold.