HOT Lanes: Getting the most out of our highways

Friday, April 11, 2008

We are always looking for innovative ways to improve traffic flow and ease congestion. One of the ideas that we are starting very soon to make the most of our existing lanes without creating more congested roadways is HOT lanes. HOT lanes can help make our roads more efficient by using our existing Good To Go! electronic tolling technology and making better use of unused space in the carpool lane.

State Route 167 was chosen as the site for the HOT lanes pilot project because the freeway has heavy congestion in the regular lanes and space available for more vehicles in the HOV lanes, and we know we can rely on Good To Go! to eliminate waiting in line at toll booths. The pilot project is located along the nine-mile area between Renton and Auburn.

Here’s how it works: Solo drivers can choose to pay a toll and drive in the HOT lane to avoid congestion when there is space in the lane for more vehicles. With variable tolling, the toll price will adjust automatically to ensure that drivers in the HOT lanes can travel quickly and reliably whenever they chose to use them.

Carpools, vanpools and transit will enjoy free-flowing travel in the HOT lanes virtually all the time.

Variable tolling will keep traffic in the HOT lane moving quickly at all times.
Variable tolling, also called dynamic pricing, is a high-tech way to manage the number of vehicles entering a HOT lane to keep traffic moving quickly, even when the other lanes are congested.

Traffic counters in the pavement detect how many vehicles are in the HOT lane and the speed at which they’re traveling. This data is sent to computers at a Traffic Management Center in Shoreline.

Using this real-time traffic data, the computer automatically adjusts the price on the toll rate signs to manage the number of vehicles entering the HOT lanes.

As more vehicles enter, space in the HOT lanes becomes limited, and the price goes up. When the HOT lanes have lots of space available; the price drops. The computer allows traffic volumes to be as high as possible, without allowing the HOT lane to become congested. And it's all done instantaneously. That is how express travel is maintained for drivers in the HOT lane.

While we expect speeds of 50-55 mph, the computer is set to maintain speeds of at least 45 mph 90 percent of the time during rush hour in the HOT lanes. As more cars move into the HOT lane, more space is created in the regular lanes, so more vehicles can travel on SR 167, using all lanes more efficiently.

Most Washingtonians are just now learning about HOT lanes so we want to hear from you. What do you think of HOT lanes? How will HOT lanes affect your commute?


Anonymous said...

This should be interesting. Will data of HOT lane pricing history be publicly available? I am interested in seeing how high the cost to drive in the HOT lane gets. What's the average price during PM peak? What's the average price daily? What's the average price per single driver paying for the privilege? What's percentages of single drivers? Busses? Carpools? Vanpools?

I can see it now, the lane will be jammed up with busses, carpools and vanpools with a price to drive the HOT lane of $100.00. (or more) Will we be seeing images in the Seattle Times of HOT lane prices in the thousands or tens of thousands because of some computer logic?

I personally won't be using the HOT lanes as I'm not a user of that highway. But I am interested in the implications it may bring.

Daily CSV files of data please.

The Geezer said...

Or, we could just wipe out those pesky diamond thingys on this lane, and let all traffic use it, FREE.

I still recall when they moved the HOV lane from the outside to the inside. 4 days with NO hov lane, and guess what?

Four days of 55+ MPH traffic in ALL lanes.

But the WSDOT didn't want you to notice that, or remember that.

Geezer never forgets!
Geezer also never misses a chance to diss the WSDOT and it's country bumpkin cousin, WSF.

Geezer OUT!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Geezer above ^^^^. SR167 is in some major need of 3-4 lanes. With all the expansion of Bonney Lake and surrounding areas twice the amount of cars are using SR 167. 2 lanes don't cut it.

The Geezer said...

Thanks Anon. Now you have incurred the wrath of the blogmeister guy. Agreeing with me puts you on the Highway to H-E double hocket sticks.

Oh, and the Geez had a senior moment, and deleted...moving the HOV lane "ON I-405"...... from his earlier post.

But, the WSDOT needs the money, and their toll-road sensor contractor does too, so they can give money to the campaign......


The Geez

Evan said...

Since it looks like this information won't be on any of the new overhead signs, is there any way to add the HOT lane travel times alongside the general purpose lane travel times on the mobile version of the travel times webpage?

Anonymous said...

The price will decrease or increase based on the amount of traffic in the HOT lane, so the toll amount will depend on the demand for HOT lane space. An average peak-hour toll might be $2 to $5. The state Transportation Commission established a toll range of 50 cents to $9.

Jay said...

I like the idea of HOT lanes. It not only allows the state to collect more money to pay for future transportation projects, but also allows for better use of all lanes on the highway. I used the "Express Lane" in Utah, which is a very long HOT lane, and speeds were maintained during the afternoon commute. These lanes really do work.

Also, I must say that congestion pricing seems like a novel idea to me. People want more lanes, but it isn't going to happen when we reject tax packages to pay for them. Congestion pricing should improve traffic, while at the same time, collect much needed funds for future projects.

I'm interested to see the results from this study in a couple of years.

The Geezer said...

Jay is right here:

People want more lanes.

Jay is mistaken here: But people don't want to pay for them.

People would LOVE to pay for more GP lanes. The last boondoggle that the intelligent electorate voted down had over half for "transit" and the like, another 30% for HOV lanes (read more transit) and very, very little for GP lanes.

The sheeples are smart. They can tell that when they throw up the mass transit solution, particulalry at grade, that it is just pabulum for the labor unions, and 'taint about transportation.

Congestion pricing is only another gub'mint scheme to tell you how to live your life.

Want to relieve congestion? How about all gub'mint folks ride that mass transit they all pimp? Make it a requirement, as they already have a (mostly) free pass.

Then, open the gubmint from 5 AM to 8 PM, and let them have flex time, pick your 8 within those perameters.

That would relieve congestion in a heartbeat, free. At no cost to the sheeples.

Congestion pricing and HOT lanes are just a money maker, and subsidy for the rich.

The Geezer has spaketh.

David said...

Until the SR167 Expansion and the SR167 Extension Projects are complete there really is no reason to pay to be in the HOV/HOT lanes. Especially since the HOV lanes don't move much faster then the general purpose lanes and the HOT lanes is not a one time fee per use. from my understanding you can pay anywhere from max $9 per couples miles. plus it will have to managed by WSDOT. Besides if we would just invest in freeway bus station. But WSDOT is going of data from other parts of the country where HOT lanes are successful like Denver. but I agree with Aaron that no one wants to pay for it. especially since oil companies are stating record high profits. but at least they are making some kind of progress and doing something about it. Personal I like how I-405 and SR167 are open to general public during off peck hours. but I think the off peak hours should include weekends. You will always have HOV lanes due to the State get federal money for every mile of HOV lanes. it keeps money in your pock. I say invest more in transit. and improve mass transportation from south end to eastside. let was just a person plug for my commute. I bus it anyways.

nothing great on the road then see a carpool violator getting pulled over. they should make those fines stiffer.

kickahaota said...

David, what you say about having to pay tolls every couple of miles is incorrect (although that was my first impression too -- I hope the signs will be clear about this). Cars that have a transponder will pay the toll when they first enter the lane, after that, all the other transponders they pass on that same trip won't charge a toll (see the "How will the tolls work?" question on the FAQ).

I don't commute on 167 enough to know whether what you say about the traffic flow is true; but I'll be interested to watch how things develop. After all, it's not like the Tacoma Narrows bridge; nobody's forced to pay the toll in order to use the roadway -- the free lanes are still there. So if the carpool lanes don't consistently deliver a faster trip than the free lanes, then the regular commuters (the people with GoodToGo transponders in the first place) will catch on to that and stop paying the toll.

Anonymous said...

As someone who drives in the HOV lane on 167 M-F, David is incorrect that the HOV lane doesn't move much faster than the general purpose lane. It moves at least at 55mph, with the rare occassion that an accident slowing it down.

I dislike the HOT lane very much since I have taken the time to find a carpool so I can take advantage of the faster commute. Until the state does away with HOV lanes, I want them to remain for those who actually do carpool, not for those who want to potentially pony up $180 a month.

Plus, there are already idiots who pull into the carpool lane from a dead stop, causing a very dangerous situation. If people can't figure out NOT to do this when it's illegal for them to be in the HOV lane, I can't wait until they feel entitled since they don't understand the concept of double-lane striping.

Bottom line, I'm dreading April 28th. I really hope this works and that my HOV commute will not becomed bogged down.

Greg Phipps said...

The SR 167 HOV lanes have been on the inside since they were added starting in 1994. You may be thinking of I-405. WSDOT moved the I-405 HOV lanes to the inside in the mid-1990s.

Although traffic may have flowed smoothly during the transition on I-405, be wary of drawing conclusions from that experience. If we opened up the HOV to all traffic, traffic might get better initially, but the lanes would soon fill up. This is because a lot people make travel decisions based on the amount of freeway congestion. They check traffic on radio, TV and the Web and decide whether or not use specific routes based on what they hear. If lanes on SR 167 became less congested, these people would hear about it and start using SR 167 again.
The other consequence of opening HOV lanes to all traffic is the effect it would have on the people who carpool, vanpool or take the bus. Opening up the HOV lanes would reduce the incentive to use transit and carpool, add more vehicles to our freeways, and make traffic worse for everyone. On SR 167 you would have three clogged lanes instead of two.

HOV lanes work because they typically move about 1-1/2 times as many people as the lanes next to them - even when they don't look full.

The HOV lane on SR 167 moves about the same number of people as the other lanes and that's why chose it as a pilot project for HOT lanes. By selling space in the HOT lanes we can move more people, keep traffic moving, and encourage carpools, vanpools and transit. I don't know, Geezer, that sounds like a pretty smart and efficient thing to me. But don't take my word for it, let's wait and see what happens. It is a pilot project, after all.

Greg Phipps
WSDOT Communications

The Geezer said...

Geez, Greg. Did you read my comments?

I specifically corrected and un-obfuscated my comment to specify "on I-405" when they switched the diamond lane.

And the snapshot of three days seeing all traffic flowing smoothly IS INDEED conclusive proof that at a certain traffic volume, current, that traffic WILL speed up dumping the diamond lane.

I see you drank the ST and Transportation (fewer) Choices company line on the "the lanes will just fill up" comment. Fer cryin' out in the beer, that is a validation that there is more demand for GP lanes, and that you (corporately) are doing what the sheeples want to have done.

I am surprised that you would put forth arguments straight from the transit and no-growth lobby playbook, who want to restrict individual choices, on a blog, and sign your title to it, suggesting that your spew is the official position of the agency, lacking a disclaimer.

That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.

Geezer, having exhausted his neurons, OUT!!!

Greg Phipps said...

Yes, I did read your comment, but did not see the correction in the next comment. My apologies.

I disagree, however, that three days is sufficient time to conclude much of anything about traffic. If you measure volumes during a holiday week, for instance, you'll get a bad snapshot of traffic. And driver behavior is greatly influenced by their perception of traffic on a particular route. I for one, live very close to I-5, but usually take SR 99 because I know it's usually less crowded than I-5. The behavior of those who carpool and take the bus is no different. If they perceive no benefit to carpooling or taking the bus, many of them will choose to drive by themselves, adding more vehicles to our freeways.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeremy Bertrand said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremy Bertrand said...

If the previous anonymous poster would repost their comment we would be ok publishing it as long as it refrains from using harassing language in what could be perceived as a personal attack.

Judd said...

This whole idea is ridiculous.

The HOT lanes will be very expensive at peak hours because the pricing has to be high enough to remove a significant number of drivers from the car pool lanes. If the HOT lanes cost only a few dollars, most people would pay up. So the government will have to price the lanes so that enough drivers don’t want to use them.

The logical outcome of moving traffic from the car pool lanes to the regular lanes is more congestion in the already congested regular lanes. Then cars will try to take surface streets, thus clogging up the local arteries. This idea that the HOT lanes will improve everyone’s commute is nonsense. They are simply shifting cars from one lane to another.

And on top of it all, LA County now has a disincentive from adding more regular lanes to the freeways, since it would reduce the revenue from the HOT lanes.

In other words, there is nothing about this proposal that is in the best interests of everyday commuters.



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