Converting Central's HOV Lanes to Managed Toll Lanes a "Possibility" Down the Road

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The Dallas Area Rapid Transit board's meeting today, and top o' the agenda is the FY 2012 Budget and Twenty-Year Financial Plan, which factors into this news brief concerning Fitch's decision to downgrade DART's sales tax revenue bonds. Says the rating agency, the small dip from AA to AA- "reflects the increased financial stress experienced by DART due to a sharp downturn in sales tax receipts and rising spending requirements from system expansion."

Course, that news comes the day after DART celebrated one-day record ridership stemming from Thursday's Mavericks parade. And there's even just-posted time-lapse video -- though, sorry, no look-see at the 200 riders who ditched their dead train at Cityplace and hiked it to Mockingbird Station, much to the chagrin of DART board chairman William Velasco, president Gary Thomas and other transit-agency higher-ups. No doubt that'll come up at today's meeting too.

That's a look at today's to-do list. But freshly posted minutes from last month's meeting provide an interesting look into the possible future: converting the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on U.S. 75, between Dallas and McKinney, into managed toll lanes a la those going in as part of the LBJ Express project. DART spokesman Morgan Lyons tells Unfair Park this morning this is related to the $5.3 million federal grant DART received in '09 "to help them make better decisions about how to travel in that corridor," as we wrote back then.

Matter of fact, Lyons says, there's a Regional Managed Toll Lane Task Force in place consisting of members from the North Texas Tollway Authority, the Texas Department of Transportation, the North Central Texas Council of Governments and DART. Says Lyons, managed toll lanes on Central "have been talked about as a possibility -- there are discssions about doing them throughout the region -- but it's not going to happen any time soon."

On the other side you'll find a recap of DART's Planning Committee's discussion about the HOV lanes from the May 24 meeting. Read it now, before it costs you 14 to 33 cents a word.

Mr. Danish stated if 1 in every 10 people are violating the HOV rules and there is a $100 charge for each violation there is great potential for revenue to be generated. Mr. Olyai replied that the potential is there if all violators are caught and ticketed.

Mr. Cheney asked what the price to maintain the HOV system is. Mr. Olyai replied that $6.8M annually. Mr. Plesko, Vice President of Planning and Development, interjected that the full cost of operating the HOV lanes is close to $11 M. The vision is to use pricing to offset the cost of the operation with some return to TXDOT. Any net revenue left would be divided between DART, TXDOT and NCTCOG. Savings of the operational cost from the HOV lanes could be used elsewhere.

Mr. Noah asked if the money received from the NCTCOG would continue. Mr. Plesko replied that the $2.8M given by the NCTCOG covers the outside service area and they may request their share of it in return. Mr. Noah then asked how the proposed mileage rates compare to those used by NTTA. Mr. Olyai replied that the NTTA charges $14.5 cents and an option the Regional Transportation Council has suggested is as high as $.33 cents per mile for managed lanes.

Mr. Chrisman asked how enforcement would work. Mr. Olyai replied that enforcement hasn't been confirmed and there are options on the table. Mr. Chrisman asked for an update of NCTCOG reimbursement. Mr. Olyai replied that DART has been reimbursed through 2009 . Years 2010 and 2011 have been allocated, approved and the agreement has to be signed by both parties. Mr. Plesko stated that an Interlocal Agreement (ILA) will need to be drafted that states funds will be for Operating expenses instead of Capital. Mr. Chrisman asked if the original ILA stated that we would be paid in Capital dollars only. Mr. Plesko replied that originally the NCTCOG was only able to pay Capital dollars and DART would now like to receive Operating dollars.

Chair Carlson asked if vehicles with multiple passengers still travel for free in the HOT lanes. Mr. Olyai replied that this would not affect anyone with two or more passengers in the vehicles. Additional space would be sold to single occupancy vehicles.

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