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December 5, 2011 at 3:15 PM

State highway chief foresees 300 miles of high-occupancy/toll lanes

The Washington State Department of Transportation’s fervor for more toll lanes is well-known, and well-advertised, in advance of a new charge of up to $3.50 each way on the Highway 520 bridge, sometime late this month.

But drivers may not know that the state’s long-range ambitions are much greater — to add 300 miles of high-occupancy or toll (HOT) lanes, according to comments by DOT Secretary Paula Hammond in an Engineering News-Record magazine story about lean times for state highway budgets.

There are four paragraphs about Washington state, including Hammond’s admission that the money from 2003 and 2005 gas taxes is “gone and off the table” for new projects, because 85 percent is already obligated to pay off projects, for the next 30 years or so.

Hammond says the department’s long-term vision includes converting nearly 300 miles of high-occupancy vehicle lanes around Puget Sound to high-occupancy tolling lanes, creating a means to fund more projects. “We’ll be tolling more, but only at a pace the public will accept,” she adds.

These lanes, also known as “HOT” lanes, or “Lexus lanes” by detractors, allow a solo driver to pay a variable price to enter the carpool lane, and save time compared to staying in the crowded general lanes. Tolls are set to be higher in heavy traffic, controlling the number of users so the HOT lane flows at 45 mph. 

Experimental HOT lanes on Highway 167 at Kent have been charging between 75 cents and $1 on average. The highest one-time rate so far this year hit $6.50 the day before Thanksgiving, said spokeswoman Janet Matkin. A number of industry and p.r. magazines are promoting a next-gen tolling industry, which relies on electronic collections instead of cash at a toll booth.

A 300-mile system would be more extensive than ideas the state has already floated here in Seattle, including I-405 HOT lanes, and the conversion of I-5 Express lanes to HOT lanes.

Comments | More in General news, Government, Traffic & Transit | Topics: high-occupancy, Paula Hammond Washington State Department of Transportation, tolling

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