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Hot lanes to hell!

Motorcycles "out," in HOV lanes?

Former Senator and past president of the Senate Transportation Committee, Jim Horn, asked me to keep an eye on the changes being proposed for High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes and the proposed "Hot Lanes" tolling on 520 that at this writing have passed in the State House of Representatives. The plan so far is to change the HOV lanes to include tolled "Hot Lanes" like the ones that were created on Highway 167. This legislation would also include the same kind of "Hot Lanes" tolling on 405 as they start the 405’s expansion in the near future. So far from what I can see, and from the information I was given by Senator Horn and Larry Walker (Legislative representative of the Washington Road Riders Association), there are no proposals to toss motorcycles out of the HOV lanes yet, as long as they have had Federal funding to create them. This though is where we have to keep an eye on the pie! As I understand it so far, if the State creates toll lanes that are not funded by the Feds, or are not also HOV lanes, then they can charge motorcycles using those lanes the same as they charge cars. This does not mean that there has not been talk about ridding the HOV lanes of motorcycles, as there are some in Olympia, and elsewhere, that do not like motorcycles or motorcyclists in general.

This is where the buck stops, and the tolling starts. There was hard work put forth against any kind of tolling on the 520 project, but it looks like that has been overcome, and it will be a "Good To Go" pass tolling road, very similar to the Tacoma Narrows bridge. Our concern here is that the access to the bridge, via the 3 person HOV lane now accessible via motorcycles, remains available. The DOT in their recent literature on justifying the same toll for motorcycles as cars on the 520 and Tacoma Narrows bridges has stated that they are counting axels to base the tolls, and unless you ride a unicycle you pay the same as a car. They then said in the next paragraph that motorcycles are aloud to use the carpool lane, "for safety reasons, not because of their better efficiency." This is where I think we are going to be set up. If they require motorcycles to have the same "Good to Go" pass to cross the bridge, and use that pass for the "Hot Lane" also, then they can easily switch from being 3 passengers and motorcycle free, to motorcycles pay a toll to use the lane, if there is no Federal funding for the lane. The States can also lobby the Federal Department of Transportation to change their rules, making motorcycles pay no matter what.

In the meantime, you can keep an eye on what’s happening at the State level by doing a search on the Internet for HB 1382 that has passed the House, and now goes on to the Senate. The companion Senate bill failed to make it out of committee. If HB 1382 passes the Senate, where changes will likely be made, then it will be resubmitted for rules changes and voted on again. It would then have to be approved by the Governor. Much of the opposition to the "Hot Lanes," have studies to show that in the long run there will be no noticeable reduction in congestion, but that they are just set up to give those who can afford it paid access before those who can’t. Many are saying that it is just another way for the State to collect revenue, and the privileged to take advantage of that. After all, it is not like the lanes are paying for themselves, or will for that matter. It is set up to be an extra revenue source beyond what we all already pay in general taxes, and gas tax to build roads in Washington. This means that if you are in the General Purpose Lane, that you are subsidizing those who are willing to, or can afford to pay to be in the lane zipping past you. If the lanes have been built as toll lanes, then there is no reason that they cannot collect a toll on those lanes indefinitely, as long as this bill passes. This means that they can toll forever as a source of revenue, as it is a "choice" whether you use the lane or not, so rules for tolling projects like bridges where everyone has to pay to cross do not apply.

There must be someone who is being lobbied hard, or curried with favors (i.e., campaign contributions), to get this going when the 167 experiment has been a not so "Hot Lane." The toll lane use has been mediocre at best. I think they envisioned a lot of Mercedes and BMWs cruising through traffic like in one of those German car commercials, with important people driving them who are late for meetings involving saving us all from ourselves. The average guy/gal commuting to work will not pay the extra amount, as he or she is just trying to make ends meet as it is. They will just get up earlier! It may work better on 520, as the same system will already be in place to tax everyone using the bridge, so if they are late, or just have extra cash to throw around and don't have a helicopter, they can jump in the "Hot Lane". (I am sure they envision pretty women in their convertible Porsches late for the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new off leash dog park.)

My concern, of course, is keeping the HOV lanes and separate toll lanes free for motorcycles! I would also like to see motorcycles free on the tolled bridges, but don’t see that there is enough ground swell support for that at this time. You can help though, or if you think that motorcycles should pay, too, call the Legislative Hot Line, at 1-800-562-6000. Your thoughts on this issue or any others can be left for your representatives. They do actually count them, if not read the reports about the counts. Or if you would rather, write them via email or snail mail with your concerns. Snail mail I hear counts the most! You can find your representatives here: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/Default.aspx

With all the talk of cuts this year, it seems that a lot of what is going on is just talk. Many are using budgetary political pressure to get what they want, in the name of increasing revenues, or saving money, even if the projects, bills and cuts they are making just realign, or reline, someone else’s pockets. Please try to keep an eye on the political scene with your or others' interests in mind, and not what a particular political party supports, or does not support in the form of legislation, or rule changes being proposed.

See you on the road!

Barry Mercer


Barry Mercer is the former President of the Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts, a board member of the Pacific Northwest Museum of Motorcycling, and Pre-Owned Harley Davidson sales person somewhere just east of Seattle. Your job - find him!

 


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