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HOT lanes debut on Highway 167 today not so smooth

Post by Joe Turner on May 3, 2008 at 9:04 pm with No Comments »
May 3, 2008 9:04 pm

I don’t know how one can use the phrase “ship shape” and “perfect storm” in the same news release, but somehow the state Department of Transportation did use those contradictory descriptions of the HOT lane debut.

As I recall, in the movie version of “Perfect Storm,” the boat sank!

Something tells me there’s gonna be a whole lotta drivers complaining to their legislators and others about those HOT lanes. Especially carpoolers. We’re all used to being able to move in and out of the carpool lanes whenever we want, but that’s not allowed anymore on Highway 167.

Here’s the officials version of today’s events.


A shipshape opening day for SR 167 HOT lanes

KENT — It was trial by fire for the new SR 167 HOT lanes Saturday when Washington state’s first-ever variably priced highway toll began offering a new choice for solo drivers.

WSDOT project managers called it a perfect storm when the high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes kicked off operations amid backups caused by construction lane closures on Interstate 405, rain and wet pavement, police activity and minor fender benders. Despite the adversities the HOT lanes performed as expected.

Drivers are still adjusting to the double white stripe that separates the HOT lanes from the regular lanes. All vehicles, including carpools, transit and motorcycles, must enter or exit the HOT lanes at access zones indicated by signs and a dashed white stripe. If vehicles, including carpools, transit and motorcycles, cross the double white stripe, they risk a $124 ticket. Drivers should be aware that the SR 167 HOT Lanes Pilot Project pays for additional Washington State Patrol troopers to enforce the "no double crossing" law.

The variable toll price for solo drivers to drive in the HOT lane started at 50 cents when HOT lanes began operating at 10:30 a.m. By noon increasing traffic volumes drove the toll price up to $1 in northbound segments approaching I-405. Early afternoon backups on SR 167 cause by construction on southbound I-405 soon raised the price to $1.50.

A police chase and three arrests on northbound SR 167 further tied up traffic. As a queue of vehicles approaching I-405 started to slow down traffic in the HOT lane, the system automatically switched to HOV only at 12:48 p.m. The northbound HOT lane remained HOV only until 3:40 p.m. Tolls of up to $1.75 were charged in the northbound HOT lane until it opened to all vehicles at 7 p.m.

“The HOT lanes system was tested under a series of challenging traffic conditions today and it worked just as intended,” said WSDOT’s Urban Corridors Administrator Craig Stone.”

By the numbers

Highest northbound toll: $2

Highest southbound toll: $1.25

Transponders sold on Saturday: 80

Transponder shields sold on Saturday: 157

New Good to Go! accounts opened on Saturday: 46

The SR 167 HOT lanes allow drivers to escape traffic back ups when they simply can’t be late. The variable toll increases or decreases with the level of congestion to ensure that traffic in the HOT lane always flows freely. If traffic in the HOT lane slows too much, the lane reverts to HOV only.

There are no toll booths. The toll are collected by the same Good To Go! transponders currently in use on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Carpools carrying two people or more, vanpools, buses and motorcycles can use the HOT lanes toll-free and do not need a transponder.

During the four-year pilot period, WSDOT will closely monitor and adjust the system to achieve its best performance. The department will report evaluation data to the state Legislature and the Washington State Transportation Commission.

Drivers should remember the following guidelines for HOT lanes:

Carpoolers with transponders in their vehicles need to use the metal shield to disable the transponder when driving in the HOT lanes. The metal shields are available for $3.50 each from the Good To Go! customer service centers. Call customer service at 1-866-936-8245 (1-866-WDOT2GO) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday – Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, to purchase a shield for delivery by May 3.

Solo drivers who want to use the HOT lanes must open a Good To Go! account and install a transponder on their windshield. Learn how to open an account on the Good To Go! Web site at www.wsdot.wa.gov/goodtogo.

Drivers can also get information and open an account in person at these mobile Good To Go! customer service office events:

1:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, May 5, and Wednesday, May 7, at the Auburn Wal-Mart near the SuperMall, 1425 SuperMall Way.

For more information, view the SR 167 HOT Lanes Web site at www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR167/HOTLanes.

State Government
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