Metro now has a new option for drivers on busy I-45 North who want to beat the traffic. The transportation agency has opened its latest HOT lane, which allows single drivers to use the HOV lane if they're willing to pay a toll. The I-45 North HOT lane begins near downtown and takes commuters to several Park-and-Rides, as well as Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Metro CEO George Greanias says the HOT lanes were created to get better use out of what he calls an underutilized asset. Greanias says, "We've put a lot of money, with the cooperation of the federal government, into the creation of our HOV lanes. We want to make sure they're used as much as possible, getting a good return for our investment. And what this program allows us to do is get more use out of them at times when they otherwise might not be used to capacity. At the same time we're giving people the opportunity to get a little faster trip."
Along with getting more use out of the HOV lanes, Greanias says another goal of the HOT lanes is to cut down on freeway backups. They hope to get about 1500 vehicles off the 45 North main lanes during peak periods. Metro is also planning to open HOT lanes on U.S. 59 North and U.S. 290 by early next year.
If you want to give the HOT lanes a try, you'll need a toll tag. They're open inbound from 5:00 to 7:00 AM, and again from 8:00 to 11:00 AM.
Single drivers can use the lanes outbound from 1:00 to 5:00 PM, and from 6:00 to 8:00 PM.
The HOT lanes are only open on weekdays but Greanias says they are considering weekend hours.
If your weekend travels take you to east Harris County, be advised the Washburn Tunnel will be closed. They're shutting it down this weekend and next so crews can install 17 new incident management cameras.
Gail Miller with Harris County Precinct Two says they have cameras in the tunnel right now, but the new devices will give much clearer pictures. Security officers in the control tower will be able to pan and zoom, getting a better read on what's going on in the tunnel when traffic starts to slow. They'll also be able to read license plate numbers. That's important, says Miller, because they're trying to keep oversized trucks out of the tunnel.
Height restrictor barriers were placed on each side of the tunnel following an accident two years ago that did significant damage to the north entrance. Miller says oversized trucks still try to get in, but now they'll be able to get a plate number if a driver flees the scene.
While the tunnel is closed, the Lynchburg Ferry will extend its hours from 4:30 AM to 8:00 PM. Drivers who need to get across the Ship Channel can also use the 610 East Loop, the Sam Houston Parkway North, or the Fred Hartman Bridge on State Highway 146.
The Washburn Tunnel opened back in 1950 and it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's the only underwater tunnel in the state of Texas.
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