Monday, April 28, 2008

Rent a Car Lane

Coming soon to the Puget Sound area, an acknowledgment of the laws of supply and demand:
Washington state's latest highway experiment can't begin soon enough for John Mastandrea, a real-estate developer who takes Highway 167 on his commute to Seattle.

....Mastandrea is one of about 9,000 people who have signed up to use the new high-occupancy or toll "HOT lanes" on Highway 167, starting Saturday.

For a price, Mastandrea and other solo drivers can jump out of the clogged general lanes from Auburn to Renton and cruise in the faster car-pool lane along the nine-mile corridor. One-way tolls will range from 50 cents to $9, depending on traffic. A typical rush-hour toll will be $4 to $5.

Buses and car pools of two or more occupants will continue to use the HOT lanes for free.

If the concept proves popular in a four-year, $18 million test, more miles of these HOT lanes might be added to Interstate 405, I-5 express lanes, the I-90 floating bridge and other roadways, state transportation officials say.

When the interstate-highway network was launched in the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower wanted to fund it through tolls. But users were unwilling to stop every few miles and pay cash at a toll booth, so they became "freeways."

Technology has solved that problem, says Mary Peters, the federal transportation secretary.
Drivers can pay on the fly using computer chips, fastened to their cars with windshield stickers. First, they pay money into a state-run toll account. Electronic readers, mounted on poles above the highway, display the current toll, read the chip and deduct money from the account — like a debit card.

Magnetic loops in the pavement measure the speed and number of cars. Whenever bad traffic creates a speed advantage in the HOT lane, the toll rises, to whatever price will keep cars moving in that lane at 45 mph.

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