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.