May marked the end of the first year of operation for the High Occupancy Toll lanes on Highway 167 in South King County. That’s 1 year out of a 4-year experiment to see whether the state can squeeze more use out of the highway by getting solo drivers to buy their way into the carpool lane when traffic is really heavy in the general purpose lanes.
The state Department of Transportation is declaring the first year a success. (Here is the 20-page report.) What do you drivers say?
According to the DOT, here are the highlights:
–More than 30,000 individual Good to Go! customers paid to drive the HOT lane.
–The average toll rate paid was about $1.
–The average number of daily tolled trips continues to increase monthly from 1,050 trips per weekday in May 2008 to 1,710 trips per weekday in April 2009.
–General purpose (GP) lane speeds increased 10 percent.
–GP lane volumes increased up to 4 percent.
–HOT lane volumes increased up to 3 percent.
–HOT lane traffic speeds increased up to 8 percent.
–Carpool and transit travel times maintained at HOV-only (pre-HOT) levels.
–The HOT lane does not appear to have any adverse impact on safety.
Carpools, buses, solo drivers saving time in HOT lane
First annual report shows HOT lane option still growing in popularity
KENT – More than 30,000 solo drivers paid an average toll of $1 to escape heavy traffic on State Route 167 and drive in the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lane during the pilot project’s first year.
Released today, the SR 167 HOT Lanes Pilot Project’s first Annual Performance Summary indicates that more and more people are finding value in this unique option to leave congestion in the rearview mirror.
"The data is in, and the results are clear – HOT lanes are working," said Paula Hammond, Washington Transportation Secretary. "More people are getting through rush hour on SR 167 in less time than they were a year ago."
This four-year pilot project studies how variably-priced, electronic tolling can ease traffic congestion on SR 167 between Auburn and Renton. It began May 3, 2008, when solo drivers with a Good To Go! transponder were offered the choice to pay for a faster trip in the carpool lane when extra space was available.
Despite an opening year that saw skyrocketing gas prices, economic recession and unprecedented snowstorms, solo drivers increasingly chose to pay for a faster trip in the HOT lane. The number of solo drivers using the HOT lane increased nearly every month since opening.
During the first year of HOT lanes:
More than 30,000 individual Good to Go! customers paid to drive the HOT lane.
The average toll rate paid was about $1.
The average number of daily tolled trips continues to increase monthly from 1,050 trips per weekday in May 2008 to 1,710 trips per weekday in April 2009.
General purpose (GP) lane speeds increased 10 percent.
GP lane volumes increased up to 4 percent.
HOT lane volumes increased up to 3 percent.
HOT lane traffic speeds increased up to 8 percent.
Carpool and transit travel times maintained at HOV-only (pre-HOT) levels.
The HOT lane does not appear to have any adverse impact on safety.
"I’ve been doing it since day one," said Rollo DeVore of Lake Tapps. "Obviously it’s less traffic (in the HOT lane). It flows a bit faster. In my opinion it’s much safer because you don’t have people pulling out in front of you."
Throughout the first year, WSDOT engineers closely monitored the HOT lane. By fall 2008, it was clear that variable tolling could tap unused space in the carpool lane without slowing down carpools and buses. However, the HOT lane still had space for even more vehicles without slowing down traffic, so WSDOT is reaching out to the public with more information and guidelines for using the HOT lane to save time.
WSDOT listened to the people who drove the HOT lane and responded by placing new signs on SR 167 that indicate the best place to leave the HOT lane in time to catch a specific highway exit. Other new signs informed drivers that HOT lanes are toll-free to carpools and busses.
"We expected a period of adjustment as drivers become familiar with HOT lanes and the new rules," said HOT lanes engineer Tyler Patterson. "Now we’re seeing smoother traffic because more drivers understand how the lane works and how it can save them time when traffic is bad."
The HOT lane is one example of WSDOT’s plan for curbing congestion, known as Moving Washington. The approach is comprised of thee basic strategies: add new road space strategically; offer commuters more choices to reduce traffic demand; and make the state’s existing highways as efficient as possible, which is where the HOT lane comes in.
The variable toll increases and decreases with the level of congestion to ensure that traffic in the HOT lane flows freely. The goal is to maintain highway speeds, while increasing the number of vehicles using the lane. If traffic in the HOT lanes slows too much, the lane will revert to HOV only.
There are no toll booths. The toll is collected by the same Good To Go! transponders used on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Carpools carrying two people or more, vanpools, transit and motorcycles use the HOT lanes toll-free and do not need a transponder. Solo drivers pay one toll per trip.
Solo drivers who want to try the HOT lane 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 or call 1-866-936-8246.
For more information, view the SR 167 HOT Lanes Web page: www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR167/HOTLanes.