Politics & Government

More drivers paying to use HOT lanes

More drivers have bought their way into car-pool lanes on state Route 167 in recent months, although the state still is far from breaking even on the project.

August saw a 65 percent increase in revenue to the state from the previous year. July’s increase was 75 percent.

That means more solo drivers such as Tina Wagner, who’s willing to pay as much as $200 a month to drive in high-occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes that extend from Auburn to Renton.

Wagner said it’s worth it to cut her 31/2-hour round trip to work at Seattle’s Unified Grocers from her home in Puyallup more than in half. She and her boyfriend have noticed the difference.

“It literally saved my relationship, because of my stress level,” she said.

Money coming into the state has reached as much as $50,000 in June, but that’s still a long way from the roughly $98,000 per month it costs to run the HOT lanes.

Department of Transportation officials had higher hopes for use of the lanes at the outset in May 2008. They said early marketing efforts weren’t as strong as they could have been, out of worries about being overwhelmed with customers.

They hope the project will start turning a profit next year, once costs are spread over more projects, including the state Route 520 bridge over Lake Washington.

Still, DOT says, the project has succeeded in its goal of speeding up traffic on clogged SR 167.

HOT lanes have carried more vehicles lately, but speeds in the lanes haven’t gone down, said tolling engineer Tyler Patterson.