I-405 Tolling Option 4

This session the state legislature is looking at moving forward the idea of “Express Toll Lanes” on I-405 and SR-167. More commonly referred to as High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, HB 1382 would start a process of expanding the HOT lane system, starting at the north end of I-405 and working southwards, eventually connecting to the existing HOT lanes. This would create a continuous managed north-south corridor from Puyallup to Lynnwood.

The idea behind managed lanes is to preserve the travel time reliability of the HOV network while maximizing the throughput of those lanes. Transit and some carpools would continue to use the lanes as normal but solo drivers would be able to buy into the lanes. As the lanes fill up the price for solo drivers to enter the lanes increases.

A major change, that will certainly be controversial is a move away from 2+ HOV lanes to 3+ HOV lanes. This is necessary for the lanes to pencil out financial and for WSDOT to meet HOV performance standards in the future. Today many regional HOV facilities are already failing WSDOT’s 45 MPH, during 90% of rush hour performance standard.

While the SR-167 HOT lane pilot has been somewhat of a disappointment, especially with regards to revenue,  it has shown that a system like this is feasible and has potential. Last year the legislature directed WSDOT to complete a study of the idea, which they also had reviewed by an expert review panel. The proposed legislation builds off the expert review panel’s recommendation.

The expert review panel recommended moving forward with a two phase implementation of Option 4. They identified two generations of HOT lanes systems, the first which requires less capitol is targeted a maximizing the efficiency of the road system with second generation systems having an added focus on revenue generation to pay for HOT lane related capacity expansion.

Last week it passed out of the House Transportation Committee. It will be interesting to see where this bill goes.

60 Replies to “I-405/SR-167 Express Toll Corridor”

  1. As someone who drove in the HOT lanes on 167 as a carpool every day for 2 years I want to say this is a HORRENDOUS Idea if it is simply a larger scale implementation of the exact same strategy.
    Limiting access points to the lanes makes them very very annoying.
    I will say, my use of the carpool lanes on 167 dropped off severely after the opening of the HOT lanes because I do not like the access strategy. Not one bit.

    1. Why not take this $$$ and just further upgrade SR18 to I-605 (or would it be I-505 under the interstate numbering scheme?)

      1. I totally Agree, 18 as a full interstate all the way would be magnificent, and hopefully pull many more trucks off I-5, 167, and 405.

      2. It would be I-605: this route was a concept thrown around in the late 1960’s.

        It’s a problem without a good solution: the creation/growth of the suburbs in southeast king co have altered commuting routes to the point where the connections to other roads are actually less important then the road itself. So, poorly designed interchanges from decades past are coming back for vengeance – it’s not a capacity problem, its the ability to move capacity on and off the route unimpeded. (Of course, this is a non-solution: it just sends the cars to sit in traffic elsewhere.)

        I’m all for peak-hour variable tolling for the entire stretch between 405 and 18, for all vehicles. The need will be to build better transit options up the auburn valley and into the eastside.

      3. I imagine Eric and I are going more for a 505, as it would not be a full beltway, it would just be a spur to 90. 605 would have to return to I-5.

      4. If it’s just an upgrade to 18, it would be 505 – spurs get odd numbers. However, most of the actual political discussions about a major SR-18 upgrade involve an extension to complete the loop, which would make it 605.

        The most commonly thrown-around alignment involves new ROW to connect the I-5/SR18 interchange to SR-203 in Fall City, then going along SR-203 north through Carnation and Duvall to Monroe, and from there following SR-2 northwest through Snohomish to Everett.

        This is not meant to relieve traffic on 405, it’s a project intended to open up the Snoqualmie and Snohomish valleys to more development. Ever since the real-estate crash, even the most die-hard pro-sprawl nutjobs have stopped talking about it. It would provide some I-5 congestion relief, serving as a bypass, but not enough to satisfy WSDOT.

        The original 1960’s era plan for 605 was a much tighter ring, only a mile or two east of I-405. Back then, WSDOT was planning an urban freeway grid in King County with roughly 1 mile spacing, to be complete sometime in the mid-80’s. As part of that grid there was I-605, but also the Thomson expressway, a floating bridge from Sand Point to Kirkland, and much, much more.

        You can see some remnants of these grid plans, parts of Montlake and Sand Point Way became SR-513, which was meant to connect the thomson expressway to the northern floating bridge that never got built. It still exists today, a vestigial stub of state highway. Luckily for us Seattleites, that means WSDOT is responsible for the Montlake bridge, not SDOT.

        You may hope that an SR-18 expansion would pull trucks off of the inner King County highways, but I doubt it would make much difference. Very little truck traffic is headed directly from Pierce County to I-90 east… there’s quite a few very busy freight hubs along I-5 and I-405 in Seattle, and a lot of trucks simply can’t skip them. It would be useful for trucks headed to/from freight hubs in the Tacoma area, but most of those are already using SR-18 anyway.

        North-south truck traffic on 5&405 absolutely dwarfs east-west truck traffic on 90, anyway — while the north-south routes make up around 30,000 trucks a day, FHWA estimates I-90’s truck traffic at only 5000ish. I-84 out of Portland is actually the more popular east-west truck route in the Northwest. And trucks are a pretty tiny fraction of highway traffic, anyway, so diverting them provides very little traffic relief.

      5. Who exactly uses the 18? That highway has always baffled me, it goes from one obscure part of the county to another. Are there that many jobs in Issaquah that Auburnites flock to it? It’s out of the way for Bellevue-Redmond. Is Issaquah a primary source of Kent Valley workers? I can see it being useful for those coming from eastern Washington towards Tacoma, but that again seems like a small number of people.

        And also the 512, another highway that seems to go from nowhere to nowhere.

      6. SR-18 is a useful way to get from SR-167 to I-90. On the westerly end, there seem to be a lot of people traveling between Maple Valley, Covington and Auburn. Despite what Lack Thereof says, there are plenty of semis travelling the entire route (including the segment between I-5 and SR-167). At I-90, the traffic pretty much splits and distributes between I-90 (EB predominantly) and Snoqualmie Ridge

        SR-512 is a useful way to get from I-5 in Lakewood to SR-167 in Puyallup. If you try driving it during rush hour, you’ll find that plenty of people seem to find it useful. Lots of traffic to SR-7 and the South Hill area. Perhaps there’s a lot of JBLM traffic on this road.

      7. I agree with aw. As a part-time resident of Covington, seeing 18 converted beyond I-90 would be a disaster. Holding the UGAs where they are now would be nearly impossible in the future. Agricultural KC would be obliterated.

      8. The only requirement for an even-numbered 3di is that it connects with an interstate, any interstate, on both ends (if it has ends, of course). So if it’s Highway 18 from I-5 to I-90, it’s still I-605.

        (Yes, I have some roadgeek in me even as I indulge transit geek tendencies on STB.)

        Normally I’d think that adding ANOTHER freeway contributes to sprawl and represents a return to a 60s transportation mindset, but most of SR 18 is a freeway already, and relatively undeveloped.

    2. Waste of money. Just convert existing lanes to diamond lanes.

      This is an excuse to pour concrete.

  2. Sorry for double posting, but also, they haven’t seemed to make one iota of difference for traffic congestion. I reverse commuted, and watched northbound crawl every morning with the HOT lanes empty, while I enjoyed my 75 mph Southbound commute W/ Mountain view, (and the same in reverse in the evening, Southbound, was horrible, Northbound flew).

    I can say that the traffic cleared up at the end of the HOT lanes every day going south in the evening. The lane created a “reverse bottleneck?” and once there were three lanes, everyone spread out and drove without a problem.

    Maybe others have had different experiences?

      1. they need to have enough people in them to raise money, and that number, I think, is high enough to reduce congestion.

      2. Sorry, I think I was talking about a meta-point (I cleared it up a little bit more below).

        It doesn’t even matter if the HOT lanes themselves pull a profit. I think just slowly acclimatising drivers to paying to drive makes them worth it — even if they make traffic worse.

      3. Driving on the road causes congestion; burning gas does not. The gas tax is only indirectly related to congestion and there’s a way around paying it: drive a more fuel efficient car.

        The only way to solve congestion is to price driving at its aggregate marginal cost. Space on roads is normal good in limited supply, when the price is far below demand (in this case, free) then rationing occurs. Here we’re rationing on people’s willingness to wait, which is a hugely inefficient and welfare-destroying practice.

      4. “Anything that starts to make paying for driving look “normal” is a good idea in my book, whether or not the scheme has .”

        I thought this was about making people pay the true cost of driving, not reducing congestion…
        I am in favor of making them pay through the gas tax, not through tolls.

      5. Congestion is a part of the true cost of driving. It’s called an “externality” in econ-lingo. If your driving trip makes everyone else’s driving trip a little longer you need to pay for that extra time to be paying for the “true cost”.

        And there’s no way to recover that externality from the gas tax because an electric car has as much a congestion impact as does a gasoline one.

      6. Congestion, properly understood, isn’t completely an externality, unlike pollution. The person driving shares completely in the congestion; pollution is distributed among everyone nearby and (ultimately) the world. As as someone without a car, I am almost never affected by freeway congestion, but I am subject to the effects of tailpipe emissions (and noise, etc.) from cars.

      7. Congestion, properly understood, isn’t completely an externality, unlike pollution.

        No, congestion is one of the more famous externalities in economics. An externality is any cost that is not born by the parties agreeing to the action. You’re right that the spillover is limited to participants in the market, but when you drive down the road, those people aren’t a party to your action, and therefore your driving is an externality born by them.

      8. I thought this was about making people pay the true cost of driving, not reducing congestion… I am in favor of making them pay through the gas tax, not through tolls.

        What is the “true cost of driving”? And why do you think that it’s inherently better to recoup that cost, whatever it is, from gas taxes than from tolls?

        As Andrew said, there are two different externalities caused by driving that we want to avoid, and they’re only tangentially related. The first is pollution form gasoline and other petroleum products. The second is the congestion from having too many vehicles in too little space. The first is best measured as the amount of gas consumed; the second is best measured as the effective amount of road space consumed over a given period of time.

        When designing a way to reduce these externalities, the most important thing to consider is the incentives that you’re creating. A gas tax creates an incentive to use less gasoline. For reducing pollution, this is perfect. But for reducing congestion, it works only to the extent that gas usage is a proxy for road usage. As more efficient cars and alternative fuels break down this relationship, the gas tax becomes an increasingly poorer measure.

        It’s also important to consider that burning a gallon of gasoline has the same environmental impact anywhere (1), but the value of road space can vary tremendously based on time and location. There are only two convenient routes for travelling between Seattle and Bellevue, with a total of 5-7 lanes in a given direction (depending on the time of day). Thus, space on those bridges, especially during rush hour, is a much more valuable commodity than space on 15th Ave W at 9pm.

        An appropriate pricing scheme would push people towards underused roads (at underused times) and away from busy roads (at peak times). This isn’t something that a gas tax could ever do.

        (1) This isn’t quite true. Even ignoring things like holes in the ozone layer, pollution in a dense urban environment will have a more adverse effect on a greater number of people than the same amount of pollution in the middle of nowhere. But it’s a reasonable first approximation to say that pollution costs are constant.

      9. The gas tax is a fairer distribution of highway maintenance costs, but not of congestion. Vehicle weight is both the #1 factor determining fuel mileage, and the #1 factor determining roadway wear.

        Alternative fuel vehicles are such a small portion of cars that I’m willing to give them a free pass.

        Regarding making people pay the “True cost” of driving by raising the gas tax… we’ll never see the state gas tax pay for highways. WSDOT spends about $0.50 for every vehicle mile traveled on roads they maintain. If we wanted to make the gas tax the sole highway funding source, that’d work out somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 a gallon.

        Now if THAT number doesn’t give you a sense of how much we subsidize cars, nothing will.

  3. Will they be implementing Hot Lane on ramps, or will we have to cross multiple lanes of traffic, and then wait for a break in the double whites to enter?
    If the first, then it may be workable, if the latter I don’t see it succeeding. Also I understand not entering the HOT lane across the double whites, as you could skip the scanners and not get charged, but why not exit?

    Lor Scara

  4. “A major change, that will certainly be controversial is a move away from 2+ HOV lanes to 3+ HOV lanes.”

    AWESOME. I was stuck in a 520 jam with my wife on Saturday night and would have gladly paid $3 to get past it.

    1. It’s interesting that the freeways are now noticeably clogged on weekends. Didn’t used to be like that. I navigated I-5 northbound on Saturday morning and it was slow going.

      1. I-5 S, from 45th to Denny/Mercer is normally pretty slow on Saturday afternoons, and has been for as long as I can remember.

    2. Velo, in a couple of months, you’ll have your wish granted!

      Seriously, the state allowing for congestion is a massive reduction in welfare for its citizens. The average person in the Seattle area spent 44 hours stuck in traffic in 2009, and that includes people who have very short commutes. Including gas, it cost $1,056 per person.

      Anything that starts to make paying for driving look “normal” is a good idea in my book, whether or not the scheme has any positive impact or even works at all.

    1. I’m not sure that term works here… They’re not “exclusive” lanes. Folks can merely pay for the privilege of using them without being a carpool.

      That’s different than a toll-only roadway like 520 or the DBT, which will only be available for those who can afford to pay while others choose more congested alternatives.

      1. Actually the term Lexus Lanes was coined in reference to the HOT lanes in San Diego. It stems from the idea that people with money can pay to bypass traffic while others have to sit in it.

        My main beef really though is making carpools 3+ rather than 2+.

      2. In all honesty, 2 people in a car is hardly a ‘carpool’. 3+ is the norm in a lot of other places.

      3. @Michael,

        I had no idea what you were talking about until I read up on it. That is fascinating. How quickly do the HOV lanes move in that area though with all these people using them?

  5. So instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars adding 4 lanes to 405, why don’t we just build Rail along the corridor (and reuse BNSF corridor where possible–but even if it isn’t you could still add rail along 405)? Adding lanes doesn’t reduce congestion so it won’t help anything, it’ll just encourage more cars. Adding rail wouldn’t reduce congestion either, but at least it would be moving people by a much more efficient mode of transit (and the people using it would get places much faster). Plus, there’d be the benefit of the network effect for the rail in the region.

    1. Because building rail along 405 isn’t necessarily the smartest growth option for the region. If you’re going to spend billions of dollars on new infrastructure, why not make the most of it? 405/BNSF was determined not to be worth it.

      1. But if rail isn’t worth it then we definitely don’t need to add 4 lanes to the highway as well. Either it’s a well-used corridor that needs more capacity or it isn’t…

      2. You can’t just swap roads and rail and call them equivalent modes of transportation. It’s a fallacy to say that building a rail line that can carry 10,000 people is the same as expanding a highway to carry an additional 10,000 people.

    2. There are two different answers to this.

      “Why don’t we build rail instead of widening 405 (in an ideal world where the wisest option is always chosen)?” => Yes, let’s do it.

      “Why don’t we build rail instead of widening 405 (given the political reality of the region)?” => We can’t, we’re not the decision makers. Not enough people in the 405 corridor are convinced yet.

  6. I drive the corridor to work and I rarely hit any traffic. The trick is that I drive it at 2:00pm and 11:00pm. If you don’t want to be in traffic, stop contributing to it.

    I believe that the tolls should pay entirely for the project. There is no guarantee that there will be any positive externalities for other drivers. It’s the same story everywhere, reduced congestion will alter people’s behavior. People like me will may become willing to commute during peak times. With a less insane commute, people may be enticed by the lower costs of housing in places like Renton or Kent even if they work in Seattle or Bellevue. I predict that the “general purpose” lanes will see little to no improvement in traffic speed over the long run.

    I also find it repugnant we are building two sets of public infrastructure: One set for the wealthy and one set for everybody else. If the project goes forward at all, the users should pay for it entirely. This is the kind of sick policy where the poor subsidize the wealthy and the politicians tell the poor it is for their own benefit.

    1. I’d like it to become a bigger disincentive towards density.

      Employers will see all the added costs for workers and start to move business south down to Kent, Puyallup and then Tacoma and on to Olympia.

      The best thing for this region would be to have two business corridors, Vancouver, BC to Portland and Tacoma-Yakima-TriCities-Spokane.

      Right now everything is all piled up on itself and the bigger the disincentives the more likely that the density will sprawl along the corridors.

      That’s why it’s more important than ever that we start making HSR (real 300 mph HSR) happen right now in Washington State!

  7. So how much property will the new I-405 to SR167 take off the tax rolls? And how much will its configuration devalue?

    In a Property Tax state this is important information.

    1. They’re will be increased effects on value of property due to noise. But, I imagine that little property will need to be taken as most of the interstate already has enough width for the proposed lanes. Of course, the bit near Newcastle and Renton might be the primary issue.

  8. I’d like to see an emphasis on tolling and an elimination of the gasoline taxes.

    High speed projects would be paid for by tolls, and local streets by property taxes.

    The gas tax could then be taken off.

    1. Frankly, people should be punished for their emissions. I say jack up the gas tax and put it to environmental remediation. It should not be removed. But, I agree in general principle with your other ideas.

  9. I really like the idea of the express toll lanes. Here’s why:
    – maintains HOV capacity for buses and vanpools, and larger carpools
    – allows a reliable BRT system in the corridor that won’t be traffic impacted
    – adds some general-purpose capacity while emphasizing HOV capacity
    – allows those who use the expanded roadway to pay for it directly
    – is infinitely better than other proposals to add 2 GRP lanes in the corridor
    – gurantees a traffic-free commute for those willing to pay for the convenience
    – increases choice for all, while adding capacity for all
    – Kemper Freeman hates it

    Now that said, steps will need to be taken to ensure that the implementation is as effective as possible. Such steps would include:
    – more HOV-only lanes, especially at interchanges with SR-167, I-90, and SR-520
    – better merging from the expressway to the regular freeway (using longer ramps rather than a dashed-line)
    – better separation from slow-moving regular traffic, perhaps using barriers or even wider striping

    I don’t buy into the “lexus lane” argument because general capacity would be added regardless, and furthermore, bus/carpool/vanpool options will increase significantly.

    Regarding rail in the corridor, numerous studies have been done (including by ST) and it does not provide enough ridership for the investment. I think that a bus “trunk” corridor, with branches to Everett, Lynnwood, Redmond, Woodinville, Renton, Sea-Tac, and the valley is a better bet, but with added stops along the median of the freeway.

    1. You don’t buy the Lexus Lane argument?

      So it is your position that everyone can afford to use the HOT lanes? Seriously?

      1. No, my position is that the entire freeway is being expanded and everyone benefits from this. From the standpoint of a person who can’t or doesn’t want to pay to use the toll lanes, I would think that this is preferable to a toll for everyone.

  10. Altogether and in one word: NO!!! STOP THIS MADNESS! For the life of me, I cannot understand this project. Sure, convert the EXISTING HOV to HOT lane. I don’t care. But let’s not add any *additional* capacity. What a waste of tax dollars. Let Spokompton have their disasterous north expressway and SE Washington their interstate to nowhere. But can we please stop mucking up the Puget Sound with more lane miles on existing corridors?

  11. This will be pretty unpopular but I see a striking parallel with South Florida, which I think should be emulated in the Puget Sound area. I moved to Bellevue from Boca Raton in ’08; For about 110 miles I-95 and the Florida Turnpike run parallel to one another connecting Miami, Ft Lauderdale, Boca, West Palm Beach, and Port St Lucie – essentially the entire length of the most populous part of the state. The Turnpike is all-toll while I-95 is freeway. For pretty much any journey along the corridor I happily paid the toll to ride the Turnpike via my SunPass transponder. It was a small price to pay for the time saved and, not to be underestimated, the improved safety in a largely truck-less environment. As the map above plainly shows, a very similar highway scenario exists here. So lets’ stop getting ‘HOT’ and bothered about stopgaps and deploy a real solution: 167/I-405 all-toll and I-95 freeway. The lake crossings are already taken care of with 520 all-toll and I-90 freeway. I’ll be first in line for my MizzlePass transponder or whatever WSDOT choose to call it.

  12. Will the second hot lane be on the outside of the freeway?

    Or will the various freeway stations with buses stopping on the outside of the freeway be converted?

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