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Study: Higher toll prices attract drivers to HOT Lanes

Fourteen miles of expresslanes are under construction on I-495 between the Dulles Toll Road and the Springfield Interchange. (WTOP Photo)

WASHINGTON – It’s the question that drivers on the Virginia side of the Beltway face every day: are the Express Lanes worth it?

A study of similar lanes in Minnesota finds that a higher toll price actually leads to more drivers using the lanes.

“This positive relationship between price and demand is in contrast with the previously held belief that raising the price would discourage demand,” the study says.

The researchers say they think drivers may not realize that the prices fluctuate based on how many cars are in the Express Lanes without regard for the congestion in the free, general purpose lanes.

The University of Minnesota study finds that drivers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area consistently paid between approximately $60-120 per hour of travel time savings, much higher than the average value of time.

High occupancy toll lanes (HOT Lanes) operate on the idea that higher prices will discourage drivers from using the lanes. The idea is that by raising tolls until fewer drivers enter the lanes, the operators can guarantee a speedy commute.

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