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Puget Sound’s traffic is 10th worst in US — Are HOT lanes the answer to clogged freeways?

SEATTLE — It’s no surprise that Puget Sound’s traffic is the 10th worst in the country — and it’s only expected to get worse with a million more people moving into the region in the next two decades.

Because we are landlocked, in many areas the solution isn’t building more roads, but rather a combination of mass transit and better use of the space we already have.

Transportation officials say one tool helping keep traffic moving is called HOT lanes which, like HOV lanes, carpoolers can use it for free. But single drivers can hop into HOT lanes for a fee.

Right now SR 167 and I-405 both allow drivers to use faster lanes for a price.

"HOT lanes have shown to be a very effective tool in our toolbox," said WSDOT spokesperson Jennifer Charlebois.

On average, during peak times you can save 13 minutes for $2.50 on I-405's Express Toll Lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood, according to WSDOT.

On SR 167, you can save about six minutes for $2.16 in HOT lanes between Auburn and Renton.

"By dynamically altering the toll rates we can discourage people from using the lane keeping the right number of people from using the lane to moving in the most efficient way," said Charlebois.

With a million people expected to move into the region in the next 20 years, will we see more HOT lanes on local highways in an effort to ease traffic?

University of Washington professor Mark Hallenbeck says whether you like HOT lanes or not, they may be here to stay.

"The good thing about a HOT lane it gives people who don’t have the option to carpool or take a bus it gives you the option to say today it's worth it to me," said Hallenbeck.

Still, many drivers say HOT lanes are never worth the cost.

"Don’t charge people unless you are paying for the road -- that’s weird that’s not right," said driver Ryne MacBride.

Q13 News' Hana Kim asked WSDOT if we could see HOT lanes on all highways. Transportation officials wouldn't answer that question but said the decision would be left up to the legislature.

Right now, HOT lanes remain a pilot program -- a long one. It's been going on for nine years now. Lawmakers haven't made it permanent because not everyone is on board with the controversial tactic to get out of traffic.