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How is WA State tackling traffic congestion?

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – We don’t know what the future holds for transportation in our region, but communities in the US are all fighting traffic congestion in their own ways.

Washington State has a pair of similar but different systems in place to deal with it.

“There was a situation on Highway 167 where we had some really highly-congested general-purpose lanes and an under-utilized HOV lane,” explains Jennifer Charlebois, a toll systems engineer with the Washington State Department of Transportation.

So they turned to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes.

“It essentially allows single-occupant drivers to use the existing HOV lanes during most times of the day for a small toll,” says Charlebois.

The system was installed almost seven years ago, part of more than a billion dollars in federal grants given to five different municipalities across the US, to combat road congestion in a number of different ways.

The question is: How has it worked so far?

“Since we opened that system, its been very successful. We’ve seen travel times improve both in the HOT lane as well as in the general purpose lane. Drivers can save an average of about seven minutes of travel time for an average of a $2 toll in the HOT lane. We see currently about 4,500 tolled trips on every weekday and we’ve seen those trips increase about four times since we opened,” says Charlebois.

Much like on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, tolls are collected electronically and Washington State troopers are responsible for making sure drivers don’t change lanes without paying.

The situation is different on Interstate 405, one of the state’s busiest highways.

“We have highly-congested general purpose lanes and HOV lanes. In a lot of areas, we are not meeting our state and federal mandates to operate those HOV lanes at 45 mph 90 per cent of the time,” says Charlebois.

So the state turned to express toll lanes on the I-405.

“We’re looking for tools that will help us better manage both those HOV lanes and the general purpose lanes and express tolling is just another tool in our toolbox.”

The main difference is that the lanes reward drivers who hit the road during less-busy times of the day.

“The toll is dynamic. [It is] based on the amount of traffic in both the general purpose and express lanes. So if traffic is light and there’s not much congestion, you’ll pay a very low toll. As the congestion starts to build, the toll will rise,” says Charlebois.

Though the express-lane project is still in the works, she is optimistic.

“We hope it will provide a more reliable trip in the express tolling but also decrease traffic in the general purpose lanes as well.”

The I-405 project cost around $12 million for just over 48 kilometres of highway.