The WSDOT plans to initiate HOT lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood, similar to those on SR 167, is another example of their flawed approach towards dealing with the area’s congestion. First of all, the SR 167 “pilot program” is hardly a huge success. In 2010 WSDOT reported it cost $18M to create, $2.4M that year to operate and garnered only $316,000 in tolls. The latest report shows they’ve supposedly managed to reduce costs to $840,000 and increase revenue to $1.02M. Even this somewhat dubious claim of $180,000 positive cash flow is not much return after years of operating loses on an $18M investment.
On SR167 the WSDOT adjusts the tolls for single occupancy vehicles from $.50 and $9.00, raising the tolls when congestion increases to keep traffic moving 45 mph or faster on HOT lanes. While the speed advantage is a benefit to those who car pool or are willing to pay up to $9.00, those limited to the regular lanes are undoubtedly facing slower speeds than if the three lanes were available to all the drivers. The fact that the toll revenue is just a fraction of original projections “suggests” the SR167 HOT lanes are not that beneficial for commuters.
On I-405 the WSDOT plans to substantially increase the HOT revenue by effectively increasing congestion on the regular lanes. They do so by making it far more difficult to carpool requiring 3+ rather than 2+ riders to avoid tolls during the peak commute. They appear more interested in the revenue from those willing to pay to avoid the increased congestion than those having to endure it by being unable or unwilling to pay the $10.00 tolls or find 2 reliable riders. (It’s not clear what gives the WSDOT the authority to arbitrarily redefine carpools and initiate tolling on a federal highway.)
Again, those unable to carpool or unwilling to pay the HOT tolls will undoubtedly require longer commute times than if they had access to all the lanes. The Bothell to Bellevue section where they’ve decided on two HOT lanes is a particularly egregious example of WSDOT avarice at the expense of most commuters. If they really wanted to reduce congestion they could work with Sound Transit to dramatically increase bus service (See 12/23/14 post Easing I-405 Misery Problem"). In the meantime they need to reconsider the 3+ carpool requirement to avoid tolls and the benefits of the second HOT lane on the Bothell-to-Bellevue portion.