Providing options on the highway: HOT Lanes

The video produced by Sightline entitled “Your Way on the Highway” suggests that more options should be provided to commuters who use the roadway system. The final slide at the end of the video shows transit buses riding in HOV lanes sharing the roadway with carpools and SOV’s (single-occupant-vehicles). This made me immediately think about the managed HOT Lanes that are currently operating on SR 167 from I-405 in Renton running south to Auburn. These lanes, to me, are a great step in providing roadway users with plenty of “options” while using the transportation network.

A HOT lane is a High-Occupancy-Toll lane that uses a pricing scheme to allow SOVs access to HOV lanes. The concept works simply off of the law of supply and demand; as congestion increases, vehicle speeds decrease, volumes on the roadway increase, and prices to use the lane rise. Vehicles containing only a single occupant are the only ones who will be charged the toll. On the SR 167 HOT Lanes in Washington, buses, motorcycles, vanpools, and carpools of two or more can drive in the HOT Lanes like they would any other HOV Lane: for free. This concept has two results. First, by charging SOVs to use the roadway, the system is discouraging commuters from riding alone. This then reduces trips on the roadway, and also reduces congestion, which reduces greenhouse gasses emitted by vehicles travelling along the roadway. However, it should be noted that the primary goal of a HOT lane facility is to reduce congestion as well as travel times along the corridor.

According to the WSDOT Fourth Annual Performance Summary for the SR 167 HOT Lanes, the system maintains free flow traffic conditions according to the requirements set by legislation meaning speeds on the facility average greater than 45 mph, speeds along the general purpose (GP or regular lanes) have increased and overall travel times are more reliable. In addition, traffic congestion has been reduced by decreasing traffic volumes in the GP lanes and increasing transit volumes along the corridor.

In my analysis, this HOT Lane facility has achieved its goal. It continues to reduce congestion and travel times for all vehicles who use the corridor. However, this facility does not discourage all drivers from travelling alone because it still allows these drivers to travel for free in the GP lanes through the corridor. If this concept were to be implemented across an entire corridor it would achieve more than just the goal of mitigating congestion, it would also encourage drivers to carpool or use transit. This is just one example of how roadway pricing can reduce trips as well as generate funds for the maintenance of our roadway system. HOT lane tolling can essentially kill two birds with one stone if implemented correctly. So,by implementing innovative roadway concepts such as congestion pricing we are learning that there really isn’t “too little highway,” there are just too few options.

Sources: WSDOT SR 167 Fourth Annual Performance Summary

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