Arlington: Race a Factor in HOT Lanes

Sherri Ly, MyFoxDC, Sept. 21, 2009

There’s a new turn in the debate over high occupancy toll lanes or HOT lanes.

A lawsuit filed by Arlington County last month claims the lanes benefit wealthy white people and discriminates against minorities. While the only rule to get in the HOV lanes on Interstate 395 is you must have three people in the car, Arlington claims adding HOT lanes would cut out poor and minorities by defacto.

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Buried in the lawsuit filed last month, county attorneys argued the HOT lanes, “encourage and enable a financially-able, privileged class of suburban and rural, primarily Caucasian residents from Stafford and Spotsylvania counties operating single occupancy vehicles (“SOV”) unimpeded access on toll lanes.”

In other words, it benefits wealthy white people.

A few pages later, the suit claims the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation failed to do the proper environmental analysis and that “their actions also constituted civil rights violations as they discriminated against minority and low income communities.”

Arlington County Chair Barbara Favola says the race issue only arose because the environmental review includes socioeconomic impact.

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The discrimination claim may be shaky ground for Arlington. The latest U.S. Census numbers show Arlington’s population is 80 percent white as of 2008 with a median household income in 2007 of $92,345. The percentage of whites was higher than Fairfax, Prince William, Stafford or Spotsylvania Counties, which are along the HOT lane corridor. Arlington was also wealthier than all but Fairfax County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Supporters of HOT lanes say people focus too much on the tolls and forget the project also includes money to study bus rapid transit (BRT) and additional park and ride lots.

“Clearly minority and low income people could benefit because it provides an opportunity for car pooling and mass transit,” Herrity said.

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