Monday, September 10, 2007

Life in the Fast Lane Soon for SR-167

Submitted by Paul Ellis

It won’t be long now before some commuters on SR-167 in South King County begin paying a toll between 50 cents and 3 dollars to travel between Auburn and Renton. The Washington Department of Transportation expects to open the high occupancy toll (HOT) lane pilot project next spring, allowing solo drivers to buy their way into the car-pool lanes. Consultants have estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 of the 120,000 drivers who use that portion of the highway daily will be willing to pay a toll to drive in a faster lane.

Motorists who already have a Good To Go account for the Tacoma Narrows Bridges will be able to use the lanes, too, because the toll amount will be electronically deducted from their accounts. Unlike the toll on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which is fixed, the toll on SR-167 will vary based on how quicky (or slowly) traffic is flowing. When general traffic lanes are heavily congested, the toll in the carpool lanes will be higher because drivers will be able to save more time by switching to the carpool lane. When traffic is free-flowing, the toll will be lower. Travel will remain free to buses, vanpools, carpools and motorcycles in the car-pool lanes and for all traffic in the general-purpose lanes.

This dynamic pricing model, which is close to real-time, also will let solo drivers know exactly how much they will be charged before they switch to the car-pool lane because the price will be displayed on roadside signs. Electronic Transaction Consultants Corp. of Richardson, TX was hired by the state to develop the computer software that looks at traffic volume and speeds to vary the toll. Feedback from the traffic model also will let highway officials know when to close the car-pool lane to solo drivers because too many cars will slow down buses and disrupt their schedules.

The HOT lanes themselves have been built, but the tolling equipment has yet to be installed. The northbound HOT lane will run 12 miles from 15th St. S.W. in Auburn to I-405, and southbound nine miles from I-405 to about S. 288th St. A nine-mile extension of the southbound carpool lane on SR-167 is slated for 2009-2011, and that may later become part of the HOT lane corridor.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

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