Legislators can’t agree on extension of Route 167 HOT lanes
JORDAN SCHRADER; Staff writer
The transportation spending plan in the state House would add an extra year to the state’s experiment with letting lone drivers buy their way into car pool lanes between Auburn and Renton.
House Transportation Committee chairwoman Judy Clibborn wants to extend the four-year pilot project on state Route 167 until June 2013 because she is trying to have the same pay-to-use lanes – known as high occupancy toll or HOT lanes – built on Interstate 405 from Lynnwood to Bellevue.
Eventually, she foresees connecting the two stretches of lanes and expanding them even farther, and she doesn’t want the Route 167 project to lapse before that can happen.
“I want them from Lynnwood to Puyallup,” said Clibborn, D-Mercer Island.
Such an expansion of the lanes would ease traffic congestion and help raise money for improvements to I-405 and the extension of Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma, she and other supporters say.
The HOT lanes continue to lose money nearly three years after the pilot project began in May 2008. But the Department of Transportation says they are about to start breaking even, because with the start of tolling on the Route 520 bridge, the costs of state tolling are spread among more toll projects.
“Now they don’t cost us anything,” Clibborn said.
Rep. Mark Hargrove, a freshman Republican from Covington who helped write the transportation budget, says the HOT lanes were a bad idea from the beginning. But if the state is no longer losing money on them, he said, it doesn’t hurt to wait before shutting down the project.
The House transportation budget could get its first committee vote today. Clibborn’s proposal to toll I-405 was approved by the House this month, but she acknowledged it is “struggling” in the Senate.
Some senators are looking skeptically at expanding HOT lanes based on what has been seen on Route 167. They did not add time to the pilot project in their budget, unveiled Tuesday.
Sen. Joe Fain, another freshman Republican from Auburn working on the transportation budget, also said he needs to examine the numbers more before deciding if he favors continuing the project.
“I don’t think the Department of Transportation did a good enough job of goal-setting on that project,” Fain said. “They’re talking about how it’s a success, but it’s still not paying for itself and it’s never going to make up for the capital (construction) costs.”
The department says the HOT lanes are a success because they have made commutes faster. Speeds in the regular lanes increased 11 percent in the project’s first two years, WSDOT said.
The department plans to extend the southbound HOT lane south into Pierce County. The Senate budget would provide the $13 million needed to do that, but the House budget would not.
A bipartisan group of Senate Transportation Committee members released their spending proposal Tuesday a day after their counterparts in the House.
The two budgets are similar, spending just short of $9 billion over two years on roads, ferries, buses, trains and the like.
With gas-tax collections lower than expected, members of both committees and both parties say the state will need new tax revenue. Voters may be asked to approve transportation taxes in 2012. This year, Haugen said she may propose a package of fee increases that could be approved by the Legislature to pay for the State Patrol and city and county projects.
Both budgets restore cuts Gov. Chris Gregoire would have made to transit agency grants. Locally, the program would spend $3.5 million on a Hawks Prairie park-and-ride project and $3 million on a planned commuter rail connection to Lakewood. The Senate version also would provide $701,000 for Pierce Transit to improve bus access in Parkland.
But most of the money goes to the state’s roads.
Here are some of the South Sound road projects funded in both the Senate and House budgets, virtually assuring that they will move forward in 2011-13:
Continue extension of HOV lanes on Interstate 5 in Pierce County: $320 million.
Continue adding lanes on I-5 between Grand Mound and Centralia: $82 million.
Continue work on interchange of I-5 with state Route 18: $45 million.
Replace state Route 162 bridge over Puyallup River: $5.3 million.
Replace state Route 167 bridge over Puyallup River: $2.8 million.
Rebuild the I-5/U.S. 12 interchange at Grand Mound: $16.4 million.
Finish adding lanes to state Route 161 in Edgewood: $12.8 million.
Repave a stretch of I-5 in Tumwater: $2.8 million.
Widen and improve state Route 3 in Belfair area: $4 million.
Add noise walls along I-5 near Marvin Road in Lacey: $3.2 million.
Finish installing stop-and-go traffic signals on I-5 on-ramps near Joint Base Lewis-McChord: $111,000.