Long Studied, Second Lincoln Tunnel Bus Lane Inches Closer to Completion

The Port Authority is studying the addition of a bus/high-occupancy toll lane to the Lincoln Tunnel.

There appears to be an end in sight for a four-year-old Port Authority study of ways to alleviate congestion in the Lincoln Tunnel’s Exclusive Bus Lane (XBL). According to agency staff, the PA plans to release its findings by the end of 2008. Reportedly, the PA is leaning towards converting an existing general-purpose lane to a High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane to help relieve the gridlock on the bus priority route. HOT lanes charge solo drivers a premium for driving on a less congested roadway, while allowing buses and carpools at no additional cost.

Anyone traveling through the Lincoln Tunnel during morning peak hours knows that traffic is an infuriating problem. The XBL, a NY-bound bus lane operating from 6:15 to 10 am, was once an express route that bypassed congested car lanes, but is no longer exempt from gridlock. The XBL still saves bus riders an average of 15-20 minutes over drivers in general-purpose lanes, but its popularity has resulted in it operating at capacity during peak hours and threatened its reputation as a faster and more reliable option into NYC. 2006 statistics indicate the XBL serves over 1,700 buses carrying more than 62,000 passengers every weekday morning. It is the busiest bus lane in the United States.

New Jersey DOT first proposed a second Lincoln Tunnel bus lane in the late ’80s. The Port Authority revived the idea in 2002, and by 2004 had a plan to study ways to manage the increasing traffic in the tunnel (see MTR #s 347, 456). In 2006, the agency’s “Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane Enhancement Study” identified four alternatives for easing traffic in the tunnel: carving a second bus priority lane out of NY-bound traffic lanes; carving a second bus priority lane out of NJ-bound traffic lanes; building a new priority lane for buses and HOVs; and building new elevated roadway lanes for local traffic. The current study is examining the specifics of how the bus/HOT lane would function (as it would likely operate under heavier bus and car demand than HOT lanes in other parts of the United States).

An HOT lane conversion makes economic and environmental sense. A conversion would improve transit under the Hudson, raise revenue for tunnel maintenance, and increase the tunnel’s efficiency. It would mean taking away an existing car lane during the morning peak, but there is little choice: Mass transit ridership is booming as gas prices skyrocket, but for mass transit to remain a good option for bistate commuters, it must continue to be faster — not just cheaper — than driving.

4 Comments on "Long Studied, Second Lincoln Tunnel Bus Lane Inches Closer to Completion"

  1. Good news overall, but I’m not sure I like the HOT/Bus lane idea. How much of a premium do they plan to charge? At some point it can easily become just as crowded as the rest of the tunnels.

    They should be studying the proposal to have a bus/light rail lane through the tunnel connecting the HBLRT to Manhattan.


  2. I agree – my guess is that the lane is going to charge both SOVs and HOV-2s, with some pretty hefty tolls. I’m not sure how dire the bus lane overcrowding situation is at the moment; as bus traffic increases over time the HOT aspect would probably be phased out.

    I imagine they will be looking at the same sort of dynamic pricing technology used in Washington state, which would help ensure that things don’t bog down: http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/3520

    I’m really not sure how they plan to deal with enforcement, but I’m not familiar with the Tunnel approach.

  3. Jackie Caswell | December 15, 2009 at 1:46 pm |

    It could be that some new thinking is needed to at least combat the lengthy delays entering the tunnels and interstates. Could it be possible or am I completely insane that all of the tolls and toll roads you have could be taxed to the residents of each state (since no noticeable improvements to the roadways have taken place in the last several years including potholes and striping). Look at all the jobs that could be eliminated (an Obama requirement). The people who most use these roads would actually pay for them with out having to wait in line for a couple of hours. The fuel saved and the emissions would go way down and it would be a win win situation for all concerned. For the life of me I cannot understand or comprehend how the mentality of the people in the Northeast can blow their horns the second a red light turns green and yet wait hours to pay a small toll to get through a tunnel they have paid for 100 times over. Imbelcils all, including the ones to pay and the ones who set it up.

  4. The PANYNJ page is not up anymore (probably a good allusion as to how much of a priority this is for them), but one idea that I have is to construct a busway over the open cut above 495 in North Bergen/Union City between 30th and 31st Streets. This is a major bus corridor and dozens of bus lines from all over NJ exit 495 to service this corridor. The busiest stop by far is Bergenline Avenue, and that should be a bus station/terminal with a covered waiting area and bus boarding zones, just like the Irvington Bus Terminal, which is on Springfield Avenue, right above the GS Parkway. A busway through Union City would do wonders for improving bus travel times and customer satisfaction. This would be in addition to bus priority on 495 itself.

    Also, another thing I don’t understand is why the PA doesn’t enforce the “downstairs” bus-only lane, which is the rightmost lane entering the toll plaza from Willow Avenue. Officially that is a bus-only lane between 4-7 PM but it is not enforced (although for all intents and purposes, it, and the adjacent two lanes, are virtual XBL’s, since buses probably account for about 97% of the traffic during that time, but they are stuck in the general bottleneck congestion).

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