HOT lanes bill gets first discussion before Houses committee
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
February 7, 2011 · Updated 1:15 PM
A bill to build and authorize new variable toll lanes on Interstate 405 received its first public discussion in front of the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday.
A small, split audience made the trip down to Olympia to testify on House Bill 1382, which would convert an HOV lane from Northeast Sixth Street in Bellevue to Lynnwood to a high-occupancy toll (HOT) lane that carpoolers can use and single drivers can buy into. The bill contains a hefty financial study to determine how a second phase, south from Bellevue, connecting to State Route 167, can be undertaken.
Those testifying were largely government and organizational officials who have been involved with I-405 planning for years.
Aside from six individuals who spoke for various organizations (two clearly in favor, two against, and two more in the middle) the majority of conversation occurred between two panels, one for, one against.
The pro-1382 panel consisted of local representatives along the I-405 corridor.
"What it really is, is a market-based solution providing choice to the motorist," said Newcastle City Council member Sonny Putter, who said he previously counted himself as a skeptic on the HOT lane concept.
Putter told the Transportation Committee he became a believer after a series of meetings with an expert committee last year in which the members validated the use of tolls as a nationwide trend to pay for road projects.
The panel of opponents featured many of the same people who testified against a similar bill that failed last year.
Former 41st District State Sen. Jim Horn, former Bothell Mayor Paul Cowles, and former Bothell Council Member Dick Paylor, testified to the difficulty of financing improvements primarily on toll revenues. They pointed to the State Route 167 HOT lane project, which they said is not recouping costs.
"We still have no road map as to where the financing will come from for the 40-mile plan," Paylor said. "It still remains true that SR-167 isn't producing enough revenue collecting tolls."
Opponents also warned representatives that they will have to answer the question of whether cars will need to have two or three occupants to traverse the HOT lanes freely.
Paylor spoke on behalf of the Eastside Transit Association last week at a Bellevue City Council meeting, where he, Horn and Kemper Freeman presented a proposal to add general purpose lanes by tolling each driver $1 per trip. They believed that would avoid a funding gap, like the one present for the HOT lanes.
Others testifying at the meeting included representatives of Metro Transit, Kemper Development Co. and the Washington Policy Center.
Proponents saw the plan as a way to give drivers an option for a reliable trip should they need to arrive somewhere at a particular moment. Others saw the improvements as a way to make public transit a more reliable option around the corridor.
"They will enable our buses and van pools to operate much more efficiently through the corridor than they do today," said Genesee Adkins, state and federal relations manager for Metro Transit.
Echoing the views of the opposition panel, individuals testified against the toll lanes concept. They pushed for the addition of two general purpose lanes on each side, as was described in the 2001 I-405 Master Plan, which local officials spent several years and more than $7 million developing.
Nat Levy can be reached at 425-453-4290.Contact Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer Nat Levy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-453-4290.