Roughly six months deep in a two-year pilot program on new tolling lanes on Interstate 405 in Washington State, the results have proven tepid. To hear Gov. Jay Inslee call the results “mixed,” puts it nicely. The new toll lanes have created new areas of congestion and frustrated drivers east of Seattle.
And while Inslee says the toll lanes will remain, he also called for more than a dozen changes for the 17-mile corridor between Lynnwood and Bellevue in an effort to ease congestion. But some of those changes require long-term, high-cost fixes.
“For many years, the I-405 corridor has been the most congested in the state. We’re almost six months into the two-year launch of these lanes and the results are mixed,” Inslee says. “While the data shows there have been significant improvements for many motorists and the corridor as a whole, new chokepoints have developed and we are hearing the frustration from those affected drivers. I’m directing WSDOT to move on short and long term solutions to address these chokepoints.”
Changes include new auxiliary lanes and hard running shoulders at key chokepoints near state routes 520 and 527, improved signage, longer access points for easier merging into toll lanes and updated algorithms to keep the dynamic toll lanes rolling.
Inslee says he also directed the Washington State Dept. of Transportation to work with the state’s Transportation Commission to lift tolls on evening and off-peak hours, weekends and holidays, potentially starting this spring.
The new toll lanes came online as an effort to allow drivers to pay—dynamic pricing changes during the day—to use the lanes when they decided it was of benefit. And while data from the first six months show improvements for commute times for transit riders and some sections of southbound traffic, drivers traveling at the north end, drivers making short trips and those driving on the weekends have all seen longer travel times in the general purpose lanes.
Inslee also asked for $10 million for new Incident Response Teams to help monitor the corridor. “We’ve all seen them, and we’ve all seen how quickly they can get folks moving again,” he says of the teams. “They do an incredible job keeping the roads clear throughout the Puget Sound and assisting drivers with everything from flat tires to fender benders.”
WSDOT’s long-term vision includes a 40-mile express toll lane system. There’s a lot of work to figure out this first foray into express tolling before WSDOT can even consider an expansion.
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.