State to remove double stripes along Highway 167 toll lanes

State DOT crews will change the double white stripe to one white stripe this summer to allow more access in and out of the high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes along Highway 167. - ROSS COYLE, Kent Reporter
State DOT crews will change the double white stripe to one white stripe this summer to allow more access in and out of the high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes along Highway 167.
— image credit: ROSS COYLE, Kent Reporter

Drivers who use the high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes along Highway 167 between Renton, Kent and Auburn won't have to put up with the illegal to cross double white stripes much longer.

The state Department of Transportation (DOT) will change the double white stripes to one white stripe this July. The change will allow drivers easier access to move in and out of the HOT lanes where they want rather than the limited access and exit points with the two stripes. The highway features a single toll lane for about 10 miles northbound and southbound between Renton and Auburn.

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke enthusiastically clapped her hands after Craig Stone, state DOT assistant secretary toll division, told the Kent City Council about the change at a May 20 workshop. She and other city officials have wanted the double stripes removed.

"If you're coming from Renton to Kent, you can't get to Kent," Council President Dana Ralph said. "You can only get to the very far end of Kent. And then you deal with congestion to come back. There is some signage but not enough to let people to know you're here. … I'm very pleased that once again you will be able to access the other two-thirds of town."

Crews are expected to start work in July and take about three weeks to change the striping and signage. A federal grant of $520,000 will pay for the redesign.

"The cards and letters we get are all about the stripes," Stone said. "'Why can't I get in and out where I want to?' In fact, we hear more from this locale and that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you're coming from Sumner and going to Bellevue you can get on the inside lane and stay there.

"But if you get on in Kent and want to get off the interchange up and down that really constricts you. I've seen a transit bus coming on at Central and illegally go across the stripes because they couldn't wait to (South) 212th to get in."

A University of Washington study for the state showed people violated crossing the double stripes to get into the lane because of traffic congestion. Drivers had to wait for gaps in traffic and access points were not convenient to reach exits.

Double stripes will be kept in certain areas to prevent heavy weaving and at the ends of the systems so drivers don't cut late into the HOT lane ahead of those already in the toll lane. The ticket is $124 for illegally crossing the double lines.

Tolls for the HOT lane range from 50 cents up to $9, depending on traffic. Solo drivers must have a Good To Go pass and pay a single toll to drive any distance along the 10-mile corridor. Vehicles with two or more occupants can use the lane for free as can buses and motorcycles. Electronic signs indicate the toll rate at entry points.

"It's an average eight minutes savings for a $2 toll and there are times when people are saving 21 minutes," Stone said.

The volume of traffic determines the rate with the goal to keep traffic going at least 45 mph in the HOT lane.

"It's supply and demand," Stone said. "It adjusts the rate every five minutes for the traffic level. Lower traffic, lower rate and higher traffic, higher rate."

The state started the toll lane in 2008. Expenses exceeded revenues for the first two years but usage has tripled since the lanes opened.

"Our first two years we were not operating in the black," Stone said. "Since (the third year) we have been operating in the black. It's up to the Legislature what to do with that, the intent is to reinvest in the corridor."

The state has taken in more than $4.7 million since opening the lane, including $1.1 million in 2013 when the lane had one million toll transactions with about 4,200 toll trips per weekday. The HOT lanes operate from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days per week.

The state will study the single-striping midway through next year and issue a report in the fall about how the redesign is going. But the early reports suggest drivers will like it rather than the double stripe which was intended to make more of an express lane with entry points about every two miles.

"The public is saying they don't like the striping, we're listening to them," Stone said. "You'll be able to get in and get out where you want to."

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