The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 10, 2008

HOT Lanes on Highway 167 will cost plenty

HOT lanes likely to cost drivers a cool sum

JOSEPH TURNER; The News Tribune
Last updated: November 15th, 2007 01:24 AM (PST)
It could cost as much as $7 to buy your way into the car-pool lanes during rush hour on Highway 167 next year.

And that charge could rise to $8 in 2010 and to $10 in 2012.

Those are the recommendations that state highway officials made Wednesday to the Washington Transportation Commission, the seven-member group that will set tolls for the pilot project of high-occupancy toll lanes on Highway 167 between Auburn and Renton.

The commission plans to publish a proposed range of variable tolls in late December and finalize them in February. The HOT lanes are expected to open between April and June next year. The project will last for at least four years.

One of the things highway officials hope to learn from the pilot project is how much people would be willing to pay for a faster trip. So the toll at the peak of congestion, mostly likely between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. during the evening commute, could be even higher than $7 at the outset.

The key is to let solo drivers buy their way into the car-pool lane without slowing the speeds of buses, van pools, motorcycles and car pools already using those lanes, said Patty Rubstello, traffic policy engineer for the state Department of Transportation in King County.

DOT officials are recommending a range of tolls. They would vary from 50 cents to $7, depending on the time of day and the level of traffic congestion. Tolls would be in place between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day – the same hours the lanes are restricted to motorcycles or vehicles with a driver and at least one passenger.

However, DOT planners would like the flexibility to extend the tolling hours if needed, Rubstello said. There probably will be no toll late at night and early in the morning.

The average toll probably will be $2 to $3 a day, she said.

If too many drivers want to buy their way into the car-pool lanes during the worst congestion, the state could close the lanes to solo drivers so that buses and car-pools could maintain a 45-mph speed, Rubstello said. But planners believe the $7 charge will keep that from happening, she said.

“Shutting down the HOT lanes is a terrible idea,” said commission chairman Dick Ford.

Commissioner Bob Distler of Orcas Island said he wouldn’t want to see them closed, either.

“I’d rather see the toll go higher and let them in,” he said. Some drivers might be willing to pay, say, $30, to travel faster during rush hour, he said. Why not let them? It would defeat the purpose of the project to allow drivers to buy their way into the car-pool lanes, only to tell them they can’t do that when traffic congestion is at its worst, he said.

“I would rather see the cost go up at the peak of the peak,” Distler said.

The whole point of the HOT lane project is to make maximum use of highway lanes that are already there. That means trying to get traffic to about 1,500 cars an hour in each lane. The state is doing the pilot project on Highway 167 because there’s excess capacity in those car-pool lanes.

Average daily traffic on Highway 167 is about 110,000 vehicles. DOT consultants predict 6,500 to 7,000 of those drivers would buy their way into the car-pool lanes.

The HOT lanes themselves have already been built, but tolling equipment is still being installed. The project’s total cost is $18 million, not counting maintenance, operation and enforcement.

The northbound HOT lane will run 12 miles from 15th Street Southwest in Auburn to Interstate 405, and southbound nine miles from I-405 to about South 288th Street.

A nine-mile extension of the southbound car-pool lane on Highway 167 is slated for 2009-11, and that might later become part of the HOT lane corridor.

Tolls on the new Tacoma Narrows bridge are $3, or $1.75 for those with Good To Go transponders.

Joseph Turner: 253-597-8436

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