People driving on Highway 167 were willing to pay $1 to shave 10 minutes off their commute when traffic was most congested.
That’s what the state Department of Transportation is reporting after the first five months of operation of the HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes between Auburn and Renton. The system allows single-occupancy drivers with a Good To Go transponder to buy their way on car-pool lanes based on a sliding scale. The heavier the traffic, the higher the toll.
DOT engineers Craig Stone and Patty Rubstello gave an update to members of the Washington Transportation Commission on Wednesday. Highlights of their report:
• The state is collecting about $25,000 a month in tolls.
• The average number of daily toll payers climbed from 1,100 in May to 1,250 in September. That’s far below the number that transportation officials estimate will ultimately use the service. They hope traffic will increase to 6,500 to 7,000 a day by the end of the four-year pilot program.
• The average toll is about $1.
• The highest toll paid was $9 (the maximum allowed by the commission).
• Fewer than a dozen drivers paid that $9 toll for a trip (in June and July).
• The highest toll paid in September was $4.25.
• A total of 243,000 transponders have been issued, including those for the new Tacoma Narrows bridge.
• The average total daily traffic on Highway 167 dropped 4.8 percent in August, from 126,000 in 2007 to 120,000 in 2008, probably because of higher gas prices.
• The HOT lanes were closed to paying customers 45 times over five months, restricted only to car pools, buses and motorcycles. The HOT lanes may be closed to toll customers if they become too congested.
• The biggest complaint: There are too few access points to get into and out of HOT/HOV lanes. Crossing a double line earns a driver a $124 ticket.
• Number of tickets issued for crossing double white lines: 150.
• Number of tickets issued for driving in a HOT lane or an HOV lane when the driver was not eligible: 263.
• Two-thirds of the 800 customers who filled out an online survey said they are likely to use HOT lanes again.
HOT lanes have sometimes been dubbed “Lexus lanes” because of the belief that only rich drivers would be able to afford them and only they would pay to buy their way into car-pool lanes. The first three months of traffic indicate that they are more like “Ford lanes.” That is, the most common make of vehicle that used the HOT lanes from May through July was Ford (7,500), followed by Chevrolet (6,800), Toyota (2,500) and Honda (2,400).
DOT Secretary Paula Hammond said her agency will ask the Legislature in 2009 for permission to begin studying the possible extension of HOT lanes to Interstate 405. Drivers on Highway 167 HOT lanes indicated they are more willing to pay a toll to drive in the car-pool lanes if the trip is longer.
Joseph Turner: 253-597-8436