Have you ever been stuck in traffic and watched carpoolers whizzing past you in segregated HOV (‘high occupancy vehicle’) lanes?
The government officially awards those drivers valuable privileges denied to you: a faster commute, sometimes higher speed limits, often segregated entrance ramps, as well as free access for some drivers of “zero/low emissions” cars (a lie because the emissions are just transferred to electric power plants and in the manufacture of batteries) and motorcycles. And the privilege confers a bit of liberal ‘holier than thou’ smugness through the segregated use of public roads.
How about the “express lanes” or “HOT” (high occupancy toll) lanes? Where some can buy their way to get to work ahead of you?
These issues might not be more than a philosophical problem and occasional frustrations expect for one thing. The Constitution. More about that later.
Here’s how it works in the Washington D.C. area.
In December, Virginia expanded the hours of the carpool HOV-only lanes on Interstate-66 by 90 minutes per day, and added toll access for non-carpoolers. They also stole the use of the road at all times for airport users–a right for all since the road was built.
For Americans far from the Washington “swamp,” I-66 within the Capital Beltway is closed to regular drivers during rush hour: the road is reserved for carpoolers and those with the resources to pay tolls higher than some people earn in a day. Yet this is a public road built with taxpayer funds. The enforcement of these rules is highly aggressive, and “violators” are given harsh fines and points on their license for driving on their own road.
When the toll lanes opened, motorists were justifiably outraged at tolls in the $30-$40 range at peak times! This to just drive 9 miles. One way. By expanding HOV and toll access hours by 90 minutes each way, a great many motorists were robbed of unrestricted access to the public road they depended on every day. The toll system was originally promoted to have maximum tolls being in the $7.00-$9.00 range, not $30-$40. By the way, the national average price of toll roads is just ten cents a mile.
The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment safeguards Americans from the government awarding special privileges and rights to one class of people at the expense of others. The I-66 tolls are set confiscatorially high to keep the road free of the traffic non-privileged Americans have to endure. We paid for the road, it is a public road. All drivers are equal, but some are more equal?
“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” –Fourteenth Amendment
$40.00 tolls are not the widely panned and cheaper “Lexus Lanes,” but more like “Lamborghini Lanes.” Could you afford up to $40.00 each way to get to work? That’s $20,880.00 a year. The truth is that your constitutional rights to use a public road are being denied to you by this price and the HOV exclusion.
UPDATE: On February 13, 2018, the toll hit a stratospheric $46.50, as reported by the Washington Post, “just below a record of $47.25 set last month.”
Some say extreme tolls not related to road construction expenses are ‘creating a market,’ however the whole purpose of our Constitution is to preserve liberties for all Americans, not auction them off to the highest bidder. It’s pretty simple: A public road should be open to all motorists–equally. Tolls for the purpose of paying for construction are a reasonable and accepted method of building new roads, provided the tolls are reasonable and are abolished when the construction bonds are paid off. Using excessive tolls and HOV laws are the worst way to deal with congestion–by awarding certain protected classes congestion-free roads. If people get fed up driving on crowded roads, they are at liberty to voluntarily change their behavior: to take the subway, to move closer to work, to change working hours, or even to bicycle to work. That’s the American and Constitutional way. To use the power of the state to deny lower-income people their equal right to use a public road so the wealthy can speed past the ‘great unwashed’ is insulting and unconstitutional.
The Dulles Tollway in Loudon County, Virginia is a an example of a privately-owned and built road, and their tolls and rules are therefore their own private business. They created a market the honest way–they bought the land and built and maintain the road. Many argue their single, expensive toll whether you drive just one mile or the entire length, but it is their road and rules. This is not the case with extreme-toll and HOV lanes on public roads, which everyone has paid for in their taxes and gas taxes and has a right to use.
Beyond the addiction of governments to our taxes, HOV and extreme tolls are a crony scheme to kick regular Americans off of their own public roads for the private and exclusive benefit of a few, and to drive up the cost of owning a private car. Many on the Left advocate policies to deny Americans the right to drive when and where they want and in their own car, preferring to herd everyone into Soviet-style mass transit. The National Motorists Association tracks the anti-auto agenda and the war on drivers.
The concept of HOV is that you are legally deprived of the right to drive on a public road unless you have the government-dictated number of people in your car. This is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause as it creates a special privilege for a certain class.
No matter how many cars HOV advocates claim are ‘taken off the road’ due to carpooling, a quick glance at those lanes shows that HOV lanes are perpetually under-utilized. All that really happens is regular drivers get crowded into fewer lanes for the benefit of the few–with their privilege enforced by an officer with a gun.
Compounding the 14th Amendment constitutional violations of HOV and Lamborghini Lanes are the privacy and legal tender issues, and a dangerous discriminatory effect on low-income Americans.
For example, most toll roads in America accept cash. Grab a dollar bill: “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private,” but try to use that dollar at a “modern” tollbooth. You can’t. The toll booth where you can pay with cash or optionally use an electronic payment method such as EzPass is vanishing across the country. You now MUST have an Ezpass to use I-66 during toll hours, as well as a growing list of other toll and HOV roads around the country. Even for ‘free’ carpooling.
What’s that mean? In practical terms that means you have to have a private company’s tracking system on your car (Consumer Reports shows one of many privacy concerns), you must have an email account or cell phone and bank account, or pay cash at certain locations plus a $1.50 “service fee” each time you add money to your account. When establishing this government-mandated account, you must pay $35.00 as an initial balance.
These requirements directly discriminate against the poor and everyone on a budget who might want to use the road for carpooling but can’t afford the initial fee and must either have a bank account or pay extra to refill their account with cash. Of course $35.00, won’t even cover one day’s driving on the Lamborghini Lanes, but if you never use the road as a toll-paying driver, why are you required to maintain a balance at all and forever?
Without an EzPass you can’t legally occasionally use the road even with passengers, thus discriminating against the person who had no intention of ever using the road with a passenger but one day has a spouse or friend in the car and wants to use the road during the expanded restricted hours. Oh, if you get a pass and toss it in the glove compartment just in case you might have a second person in the car one day, guess what? The pass expires after six months of non-use, therefore requiring effectively a minimum purchase or use.
Visitors are effectively outlawed from using these public roads, unless by chance they had an EzPass. Rental car users might opt to pay extra to use an ExPass, but everyone else is in danger.
Virginia isn’t done with creating segregated, 14th Amendment-violating HOV/Lamborghini Lanes. Wait till you see the plans for I-66 outside the Capital Beltway:
Two new full-time HOV/toll (“Lamborghini Lanes”) will be added to carry the protected class and wealthy at speed to their destinations on nearly-empty lanes. For regular people, there will be between one additional lane and one FEWER lane. You read that right: in some areas there will be one less “regular people” lane. Even worse, the “plus one” lane will in some areas be what can only be described as “gridlock lanes.” These lanes will start between exits and vanish at the next exit, creating massive lane changing jams at each exit, resulting even worse congestion for the non-privileged. Segregated exit ramps for the privileged will whisk them onto and off of their protected lanes without rubbing shoulders and fenders with the non-privileged.
Everyone will suffer years of construction delays, but only the HOV and $40.00 toll lane users will benefit from additional lanes. I’ve been to hearings and argued with the traffic engineers who don’t get it–or more likely, who must obey the dictates of leftist, anti-auto politicians and bureaucrats.
It get even worse from here. By 2020, Virginia will up the qualifying minimum number of people in a car to three on all HOV roads–it’s currently two on I-66 and some other highways.
These laws and fines are part of the legal punishment required to keep regular tax-paying Americans off of their public roads, to create the protected class that can enjoy faster commutes. Virginia’s transportation secretary Aubrey Layne boasted that, “I wouldn’t pay $40, and that’s the whole point. Quite frankly, if you don’t want to pay it, it’s pretty simple: put somebody else in your car.” Let them eat cake.
The Constitutional perspective would be that the reason to NOT drive on a road should be individual choice, not that the state has raised a specific fee and HOV laws for the purpose of excluding drivers to create a fast road for one class. The state has no right to ration access to public roads, or offer fast commutes to certain classes of people, and denying it to the less ‘worthy’ or wealthy.
In the Washington, DC area, carpoolers are often government employees because there’s likely to be someone near your neighborhood who works in the same government complex as you do. This offers the dangerous prospect that HOV lanes offer a special privilege to government employees.
I wrote the “Don’t Track Me Act” in Congress to prohibit replacing the gas tax with a GPS-tracking tax, in part because the fees would be easy to adjust by bureaucrats for social engineering reasons, including “congestion pricing.”
To price people out of being able to afford to drive at certain times or days, or to go to locations the government decides it doesn’t want you to go. Imagine if such a system had been in effect in 2016, and you were driving to a Trump rally. Could Obama bureaucrats have priced that drive at $50.00 each way to “prevent congestion?” The real reason of course would be to harm the campaign and voters. Don’t believe it? It’s no different from the violations of law exposed in the Nunez memo.
It is time to restore our 14th Amendment rights by opening all HOV lanes and Lamborghini Lanes to all Americans.
#I-66Tolls #HighwayRobbery #AbolishHOV #CongestionPricing
Art Harman co-founded the non-profit advocacy organization, “Heave HOV” years ago to combat HOV lanes in court. He was the Legislative Director and foreign policy advisor for Congressman Stockman (R-Texas) in the 113th Congress, where he wrote H.R. 5884, the “Don’t Track Me Act” to outlaw government vehicle tracking and taxing drivers by the mile. He is a veteran policy analyst and grass-roots political expert, and his expertise includes foreign relations, border security/amnesty, national security, transportation and NASA/space policy. He is the founder and President of the Coalition to Save Manned Space Exploration–a pro-space advocacy institute, dedicated to returning Americans to the moon in the early-mid 2020s. Mr. Harman developed the Congressional strategy to kill the 2013 Senate “gang of eight” amnesty bill as violating the Origination Clause, and provided policy advice to the Trump campaign, transition and the White House. He is a frequent guest on radio shows on key policy issues.