State, cities looking at multiple options for I-405 HOT lanes

The Interstate 405 Executive Advisory Group met in Renton this past Thursday to discuss the different carpool scenarios for additional lanes set to be added to the roadway.

The group’s recommendations will help inform a project-funding-and-phasing plan for a future 40-mile long express toll lane system, encompassing I-405 express toll lanes and state Route 167 HOT lanes.

A HOT lane is a multiple-occupancy lane that is open to single-car drivers for a price, like the lanes on SR 167.

The Washington State Department of Transportation is scheduled to deliver the plan to the governor and legislature at the end of the year.

According to Renton Public Works Administrator Gregg Zimmerman, while there is no money from the state to build the lane yet, there is money for the design, which prompted the discussion.

Zimmerman said there were a handful of options for the lane, including making it open to all cars with two or more passengers, three or more passengers, or a combination based on the time of day (peak vs. off-peak hours).

But legislators must take into consideration state law which says that HOT lanes must be designed to maintain a minimum speed of 45 mph 90 percent of the time and that tolls must pay for their operation.

Because of those criteria, Zimmerman said WSDOT officials have concluded that a two-plus option is not viable because too many people would use the lane, making the speed requirement nearly impossible to meet, as well as not generate enough revenue.

Because of that, they are recommending that the lanes only be free to cars containing three or more people.

“When we consider these carpool options, we’re thinking not only about how each scenario will keep traffic moving in the corridor but also how best to generate revenue to help fund future improvements,” said Kim Henry, I-405/SR 167 program director in a press release.

Council President Randy Corman, who has represented the city on the Executive Action Group for years, said he is not sure the public will accept a three-plus HOT lane because two-plus lanes are so widely accepted and used. He also said it would only add to the perception that HOT lanes are primarily for wealthy people to use.

Zimmerman said polling shows Corman is right and there is a lot less support for three-plus lanes than two-plus.

The group will meet one more time in October before a final recommendation is approved.

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