On Dec. 10th Sen. Guy Palumbo (D – Maltby/Bothell) prefiled a bill to end the High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes on I-405. Although most transportation experts would line up to slay this bill, its passage — which is not likely — may actually be a good outcome for transit.
The bill doesn’t return the highway to the old, clogged status quo of one HOV-2 lane. Instead, the unwidened stretch north of NE 160th St would be HOV-3. The recently expanded segment between Bothell and Bellevue would change to one lane of HOV-3 and one of HOV-2.
The current configuration is HOV-3 during peak hours and HOV-2 at other times, plus anyone willing to pay the toll.
Abolishing HOT lanes is clearly worse for drivers who place a high value on their time, whether affluent ones paying for convenience or poorer people who face severe penalties for being late. But as a transit advocate, I’m not in the business of fighting hard for driving improvements that drivers may or may not want.
Instead, the bill would clearly help buses north of Bothell, as they would still contend with HOV-3 vehicles but not tollpayers. The lanes would not revert to HOV-2 during off-peak periods. Onward to Bellevue, the overall impact on vehicle volumes over the two lanes is unclear; however, a single HOV-3 lane with no tollpayers will likely be free-flowing for transit.
Even if this bill gains momentum, the process can always make it worse. Any scheme to set aside road space for transit can be a victim of lackadaisical enforcement, whether by SPD or the State Patrol. On the other hand, this bill is a laudable attempt at addressing social-justice concerns about tolling, mollifying the HOV-2 lobby that opposes necessary rule-tightening, and still making the overall situation better for buses.
For a legislator from the outer suburbs, Sen. Palumbo has intersected with transit and land use issues quite often. He may be best known to many housing advocates for proposing (but not yet filing) one of the most ambitious housing bills of this generation, which would establish minimum densities around high-capacity transit. In the transit realm, he was one of the Democratic defectors who voted for an elected Sound Transit board. STB diehards may remember his column here five years ago about taxi services.