HRT says express lane tolls to go toward new buses, expanded routes

File photo of a Hampton Roads Transit Bus. (Credit: WAVY-TV 10).

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Money from new HOT lanes on Interstate 64 will partially go toward new buses and expanded routes, according to Hampton Roads Transit officials.

In a news release Thursday, HRT said two new buses are needed for the expanded service under a $3.5 million grant between HRT and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The Virginia Department of Transportation will be converting eight high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes into express lanes or HOT lanes.

Transportation secretary lays out plan to toll I-64 HOV lanes

This conversion, which is expected to be completed in the Fall of 2017, will allow solo drives to use express lanes for the first time during peak hours — for a variable toll. It is part of a plan to ease congestion in the region.

This is the first time money made from the tolls will be used to support transit in Hampton Roads.

“This $3.5 million represents a major investment in HRT to improve commuting services to some of the region’s largest employers,” William Harrell, president and CEO of HRT stated Thursday.

Money from the new express lanes will also help pay for the expansion of two intra-city bus routes — or Metro Area Express (MAX) routes. HRT says these routes offer non- and limited stop connections among local cities.

The routes in question include MAX 961, which goes between Downtown Norfolk Transit Center and Newport News Shipyard. The route services 225,000 passengers annually, and HRT says expansion could increase service frequency to every 30 minutes.

The second route HRT says would be part of this expansion goes to the shipyard from the Silverleaf park-and-ride in Virginia Beach.

HRT says it is preparing estimates of annual service costs and equipment needs for the expanded routes.

A timeline for this expansion has not been determined.