Local News

Triangle Leaders Get Traffic Tips During Trip To San Diego

Posted January 11, 2005 11:29 a.m. EST

— As the Triangle grows, so does the traffic.

North Carolina Department of Transportation leaders are currently looking at ways to ease congestion and how to pay for the improvements.

According to Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, North Carolina faces a $8 billion shortfall over 20 years just to maintain current road conditions.

To get ideas for how to deal with growth and budget shortfalls, Reckhow and about 40 other Triangle leaders recently traveled to San Diego to look at road solutions.

There, they learned that San Diego has High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on Interstate 15, with a twist: Cars with two or more on board can use the special lanes.

But, solo drivers can also use the HOV lanes for a price. Those areas are called Hot Lanes.

For as little as 25 cents or as much as $8 on traffic congestion, even someone driving alone can use the special lanes.

The billing for Hot Lanes is simple -- there's no stopping, no tossing coins into a toll booth. A transponder up above the road reads license plates, and motorists are sent a bill.

The Triangle tour group zipped past slow moving traffic for several minutes. Then it all caught up to the group: Even the HOV/HOT lanes became backed up.

San Diego commuters say at certain times this happens all the time.

"Generally speaking I don't think that the carpool lanes add a whole lot," said Troy Zander, a San Diego motorist. "You know more and more people are in the carpool lanes and so the carpool lanes will back up. During rush hours they're really no better than any other."

Some in the Triangle tour group were non-committal on the HOV/HOT lanes.

"It's good to see what others that are larger than we are have done to try to solve their problems and issues," said Kenn Gardner, a Wake County commissioner. "Maybe we can capture the good ideas and apply them to our community."

Although others with the tour group support HOV, firm plans for the special lanes in the Triangle are years away. The Regional Transportation Alliance organized the two-day trip. The alliance is a local organization that pushes transportation improvements.

Another option Triangle leaders looked at to ease traffic congestion was commuter rails. San Diego runs Trolley lines around the clock, all around town.

"[It's] less money spent on gas, less headache, less frustration and it's good for the environment," trolley rider Pam Teagarden said.

Critics said the Triangle does not have the population density to support a planned commuter rail line. San Diego has more than twice as many residents per square mile than the Triangle. Still, those who made the trip say the area needs to look at the rails.

"We're at gridlock many days in the RTP area of I-40 and we've got to look at solutions like that. It's only going to get worse," Durham County commissioner Ellen Reckhow said.

The Triangle Transit Authority plans a 28-mile rail line between Durham and downtown Raleigh. They want to start service in 2008 but the plan cannot go forward until federal funding is approved.