Bridge at 10 am
Conditions at 10am. I tried to grab one at 8:45 am but the page was set to continually refresh.

Update: It seems people do not like the title of this post. Yes, it is true that this is still early days on the 520 bridge. However, I am sure congestion pricing does indeed work (see London, Stockholm, etc.). I’d welcome an argument that explains how the toll will not result in a reduction in congestion on the 520 bridge.

According to the Seattle Times, the 520 tolls have reduced traffic across the bridge by about 30% and have not (yet) had inverse effects on traffic on I-90 (according to the Times), with the 520 reduction exactly as predicted.

Substantially fewer drivers than normal crossed the 520 bridge this morning, while traffic on other major roads did not appear significantly worse than usual, according to transportation officials.

Ridership on buses across Lake Washington, however, appeared to be up.

Nearly 13,000 vehicles crossed the 520 bridge between 5 and 9 a.m., said Patty Michaud, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation. That’s about 30 percent lower than before tolling began. About 80 percent of them had state-issued Good to Go stickers that automatically pay tolling fees, she said.

Meanwhile, alternate routes like Interstate 90 and State Route 522 appeared in good shape during the early commute. Officials had expected rush hour on those roads to start earlier and end later.

So we’re getting a reduction in congestion and a (partially) free bridge to boot. It’s obviously too early to say this is a complete victory, but the theory is pretty obvious.

114 Replies to “Congestion Pricing Works”

  1. A lot of Redmond is still not working. The office is dead quiet today. Give this a little more time before you do a victory dance.

    1. The victory dance is exactly what I said, it’s too early to take a complete victory. But it does seem fairly obvious what’s causing the reduction in congestion…

    2. Nathan, the state is measuring relative to the first post-holiday day last year. This isn’t like “relative to last week”. They aren’t dumb.

      1. Winter quarter doesn’t start until tomorrow at UW. Not sure about the other schools in town. There are still a lot of people taking vacation since most companies used Monday as the New Year’s Day holiday and flights are a lot cheaper if you’re not traveling over the actual Christmas holiday. Typically when huge backups are predicted people overcompensate at least at first. It’ll take a month or two for people to adjust. One thing I don’t understand is why the current toll price isn’t being displayed on the variable message boards on I-405?

        The news today was saying 70% of the cars on 520 had Good to Go transponders. That’s a lot higher than what I’d heard previously. What I bet most people don’t know is how quickly they get hit with an additional $5 late fee (a week) and $90 failure to pay penalty after I think 30 days.

        I’d say the major difference between 520 and 167 is that on 520 the toll revenue must raise a set amount of cash. On 167 the controlling factor in setting pricing is traffic flow. In this respect 520 tolling is much more like Lexus Lanes. Overall I don’t see it having a great effect on the number of regional trips but I believe it will spread out the peak commute (i.e. people traveling earlier/later) which will result in a net reduction of time lost sitting in traffic.

        My one worry is the choke point where the HOV lanes end before the bridge deck and the increased demand at the 520/405 interchange. These could end up resulting in zero time savings even with a reduction of vehicles on the 520 bridge. That would cause a significant drop in revenue and increased prices might just have a negative return on total revenue.

      2. Whoops, I was looking at 2010. Seattle Public school was also in session which doesn’t equate to a lot of students but it does tend to affect the number of people taking vacation time from work. From what I heard on the wireless the afternoon commute saw a little more spillover effect on I-90.

      3. I cross the bridge on the bus each day to get to work. Even though there were noticeably fewer cars on the road today, compared with a normal Tuesday, the crowd level on the buses seemed the same as usual – both the morning and afternoon trips were on an articulated 545 and lots of people were standing on both trips.

        To me, this one-day sample indicates that the modeshare for transit is increasing as a result of the tolls. If it sticks, hopefully ST has some spare capacity to operate additional buses to meet this new demand.

    3. I’d wait until Wednesday the 11th (Second Wednesday since the “holiday ended” before jumping for joy.

      Don’t forget that (Gregorian) Three Kings Day and Orthodox Christmas are yet to arrive.

  2. “… and have not (yet) had inverse effects on traffic on I-90”

    That hasn’t been my experience driving across both 520 and I90 last week. Either way, you’ve got a while before this all settles out.

    1. I bet over time that congestion will worsen on I-90, though that would be a good argument to toll that bridge too.

      1. This argument falls apart when you take it further. Should they then toll 522? How about 405? If we toll every road will everyone just stop needing to go from point A to point B?

      2. No, but they may get better at combining trips or incorporating transit into their commute.

      3. What? No it doesn’t. Toll every road until there’s no congestion. Click on my “theory” link above.

      4. If we toll every road will everyone just stop needing to go from point A to point B?

        No, but if properly calibrated variable tolling is used, the timing of trips will shift to a more even distribution traffic over the course of the day. This accommodates just as many vehicle trips, but without congestion.

        Minimizing peaking always allows a more efficient use of existing infrastructure, no matter what type of infrastructure it is. Power, communications, water, transit, freeway.

      5. Zed, there isn’t an alternative to food. But if you charge for fried food people will switch to healthy food.

      6. I thought we did charge for food? If you make food so important that people cannot afford it, they will have no choice but to stop eating (or turn to subsistence farming or revolt, or something).

        I would seriously disagree that the ability to drive for free on congested roads at peak times is as important as food.

      7. I was being facetious in response to Nathan’s absurd question. I forgot the HTML tag for “flippant.”

  3. WSDOT archives traffic maps and you can get them in 10-minute increments stretching back a couple of years. Here’s the one for 8:40am today.

    I-90 has been noticeably worse since tolling started. The key part of the quote is “did not appear significantly worse than usual” (emphasis added). It’s worse, just not a lot worse (yet).

    With that said, some of the 30% of trips that aren’t using 520 any longer have certainly switched to transit, switched travel times, or just plain not happened, so in that vein congestion pricing is working.

    1. Note there was a stalled vehicle on westbound I-90 at mercer island this morning which had something to do with the traffic there at 8:40a.

      1. Here in the Northeast, most freeways are already tolled. And I sometimes suspect the ones which aren’t tolled are that way because their usage is too low to justify paying tollbooth workers.

    2. Does anyone know why there isn’t any traffic monitoring equipment at either end of the 520 bridge? I suppose having equipment in the middle gives you a reasonable approximation of what’s going on across the whole bridge, but it seems odd not to collect data at the ends. You’d think they could leverage the tolling equipment infrastructure that they just installed to also provide traffic monitoring capabilities…

  4. It’s too early to determine any conclusions. Traffic patterns change from day to day. Usually, a pattern can only be seen over the course of many weeks using averages for Tuesday through Thursday data.

    The title is misleading, because no reliable conclusions can be drawn yet. We can reduce traffic volumes by raising the gas tax as well.

    But either way, this post shouldn’t even be here, unless you want to embarrass STB by drawing conclusions like an amateur. The real test isn’t this week. We can only see how tolling affects traffic patterns after a few weeks of data. Coming up with conclusions like this is just as bad as saying Link doesn’t work because we aren’t meeting ridership projections.

    On a side note, SR 520 doesn’t use congestion pricing. It’s variable, but not dynamic. It only responds to the time of day, not the amount of traffic on the bridge. It really should be called time of day pricing, or peak hour pricing…

    1. You have lots of logical problems.

      1) Congestion pricing works in lots of places, so that title is accurate. There has not been significant congestion on 520 since the toll was put into place. There is a huge amount of data that shows how tolling affects traffic patterns. This is not a new thing. Seattle is not a special place.

      2) Congestion pricing does not necessarily involve dynamic pricing, or even variable pricing. That’s a very limited definition of congestion pricing. Congestion pricing is literally any charge that is intended to reduce peak demand. In London, for example, their congestion charge is fixed all day from 7:00-18:00.

      3) If I write a post that says “congestion pricing is working so far”, which is what this says as I read it, I am an amateur? It seems you have significant flaws in your reasoning.

      1. Andrew, I think the issue is the conflict between your argument that congestion pricing works on a broad scale (e.g., the other cities you’ve mentioned with long-established congestion pricing) while the article specifically deals with the effect the six-day-old tolls implemented over a holiday weekend have had on 520 and 90. Metaphor: Dewey may have defeated Truman in some precincts, but it was a bit premature to publish such a declarative headline without having accounted for all of the votes.

        I’m also not much of a fan of the tone of your response above. As a staffer, your words become the voice of the site — are you promoting aggression towards commenters who disagree with your position or encouraging constructive discussion?

      2. But there wasn’t any significant congestion on 520 for the week and a half before the toll was pun in place either.

      3. I didn’t mean to be especially aggression other than the “amateur” point (point 3). I admit to being an amateur and I’m not a ‘staffer’, I’m a volunteer.

        That’s not an excuse for being rude, I’m sorry if this was rude.

      4. Andrew, my logic is no more problematic than yours. Taking a small, insignificant piece of data on SR 520 and generalizing it as a success is something a high school student would cringe at doing. As someone who criticizes the pro-car coalition of doing the same thing, it’s only hypocritical that you do the same.

        Congestion pricing hasn’t been proven to work in our region yet. Traffic at this time would’ve been light either way, with or without congestion.

        Am I rude? Perhaps. But I won’t accept hypocrisy or incompetency in a blog I (and other notable organizations) have trusted and admired for so long. It’s only hurting your reputation.

      5. Well, Jason, you didn’t address any of the points I made. cognestion pricing works. look.

        I said right in the post that it’s not a complete victory, which is sufficient qualification.

        And finally, I’m not generalizing on a couple of day’s worth of data. That’s your logical problem. I’m generalizing on all tolls and congestion pricing projects everywhere (which are many, and are proven).

      6. I’m not yet convinced that tolling 520 is going to reduce congestion. Move the congestion to alternate routes yes but if that overburdens those corridors and leaves 520 underused during the time of peak tolls then it’s creating an inefficient use of available resources and overall the amount of time spent by the public commuting will increase. The controlling factor for tolls is revenue not TDM. My hope is that people get fed up with I-90 becoming a parking lot and both bridges get tolled. Then adjusting the rate on I-90 can both increase revenue from 520 tolls, create a new stream of revenue to pay for I-90 maintenance and manage traffic flow with variable rate tolls like the HOT lanes on 167.

    2. Congestion pricing is any toll system that varies based on anticipated congestion. It does not have to be “dynamic” to be considered congestion pricing. Congestion generally occurs at predictable times of day, so peak-period tolls fit the bill. While it would be nice to have it vary based on actual traffic volumes, that is not really necessary.

      The gas tax does not generally reduce traffic volumes, especially when it rises by a tiny amount at a time and is dwarfed by normal swings in the price of gas. What it actually does is encourage people to purchase more fuel-efficient cars, then drive equal or greater miles. We should be taxing miles driven, not gallons used, and tolls are one way to approximately do that.

      1. The reason we should tax gas is that we really do want to reduce the amount of gas burned independent of reducing VMT. If we taxed gas according to the externalities of burning it (that is, higher than the Europeans do), or taxed carbon generally, of course people would drive less, and they’d do it in more efficient vehicles!

        There are, indeed, costs of driving that are mileage-based, like road maintenance costs. There are also costs of driving that are “point-costs”, in that they occur in specific places: the cost of building and maintaining bridges and tunnels, and the disruption of the urban fabric (particularly as regards pedestrian movement) by freeways are key among them.

        Surely reducing traffic for its own sake isn’t the end goal, right? We want to reduce the negative impacts of driving, and burning gas is a huge negative impact!

      2. Surely reducing traffic for its own sake isn’t the end goal, right?

        Actually, it is. Congestion is bad. By reducing congestion, you improve mobility. In fact, reducing congestion through tolling is by far the most cost-effective way to provide extra mobility. (It’s cheaper than free!)

        Pollution is bad, too. But pollution is bad in a very different way than congestion is bad. That’s why we need gas taxes *and* distance/time-linked VMT charges. The former make it more expensive to pollute; the latter make it more expensive to use congested roadways.

    1. What is premature? Do you believe that in 6 months, all those cars will come back and pay the toll? I suppose it’s possible.

      I’d make this wager with anyone who thinks it’s premature, for any amount of money: overall congestion on the 520 bridge in July 2012 (six months from now) will be less than overall congestion in 2011 by WSDOT’s measure.

      1. Do you believe that in 6 months, all those cars will come back and pay the toll? I suppose it’s possible.

        They didn’t leave because of the toll, they left because they’re on vacation.

      2. Of course the congestion on 520 will still be less in six months. You need to take the total number of cars on all routes, 520, I-90, I-405, and 522 to get a true count. I believe that in six months, the number of vehicles on all routes will still be close to what it was six months ago. The only decrease will be the slight uptick in people who have finally chosen to take the bus across the bridges.

      3. People are still deciding which bridge to take or whether to take transit. They’re trying different options each day. We have to wait until they make up their minds.

      4. Reaching a conclusion on 5 days data is premature. Based on 5 days data I would conclude that next July it will be gray and cloudy with temperatures in the high 40s. Maybe it will be, but longer term data says this outcome is not the most likely.

      5. I’d like to see what the effect on I-5 will be in 6 months. From the first few days it looks like many drivers are heading south to take 90 instead of heading north to cross 520. In 6 months, if that’s creating a big mess at the 5/90 interchange that backs up to the U District, then we will have to wonder if tolling 520 only is working.

        When I used to reverse commute from south Seattle to Redmond 4x/week I would always use 90 to head home–just to avoid the 520 parking lot. I would gladly pay $3.50 every afternoon to travel at (or slightly above) the posted speed limit. But if my time saved on the bridge was lost in a traffic jam on I-5, I might be less likely to pay the $3.50 toll.

        Northbound commuters on I-5 are lovin’ the new toll bridge, however. The Mercer to 520 merger slowdown has been diminished, as has the 520 to 5 (northbound) merge.

      6. I know I’ll be trying different methods for at least the next couple of weeks. I always drove across the bridge because it was MUCH faster than taking transit. Now I’ll take the bus maybe once a week because of the toll.

        I tried to today but the Green Lake P&R was packed at 8:30 this morning so I just drove. That’s kind of aggravating. I just have to plan on getting there earlier when I take the bus I suppose.

        Lots of people here seem to rail against P&Rs but the infrastructure in Seattle isn’t good enough to get from most points in the city to the Eastside in any reasonable amount of time (i.e. under an hour). Unless you live in DT, Cap Hill or the U-District you’re pretty much SOL. And I’m going to a major Eastside hub. P&Rs make up for this lack of infrastructure. Taking transit from my house is still a non-starter because it just takes too damn long.

      7. NSBill, your take on it may vary, but I think most people here rail at free Park and Rides — that is, at spending money on building P&Rs rather than transit capacity. I doubt anyone would want to take away the Green Lake P&R, say.

        Side note: if Green Lake P&R is full, I think you can also use the Calvary Church parking lot at 68th (ish) and Roosevelt. You used to be able to — I’m not sure if Metro still has a deal with the church.

    2. Or two years. This is so reminiscent of all the folks who wanted Link to be carrying 75,000 people a day on August 1st of 2009. Give it a rest, untwist the knickers, and chek back on 1/1/14.

      Lots of other issues to deal with…

      1. Two years is too long because employment might change significantly in the mean time. I can’t honestly believe anyone here thinks the toll won’t reduce the number of people driving across the bridge at peak times.

      2. I don’t think that’s what most are arguing. If we want to see how much tolling will reduce driving across the bridge, we need to give people time to adjust. We’ll see some people switch right away. Others will try out other options, and we’ll likely see the numbers stabilize in a few weeks or months. But over the longer term people will start larger changes like where they live or work – this is the most interesting effect to me. What happens in one day? Not too interesting.

  5. Yep, congestion pricing most certainly works. Probably the best way to tell is to look at transit ridership in the corridor – all indications are that it is up significantly.

    It’s a bit early to determine what the impact to the alternate routes will be, but they most certainly will be worse once everyone gets back to work. But the solution to that is simple – toll I-90 too. And they most certainly should – along with putting early tolls on the viaduct/DBT and on the CRC.

    And there should probably be tolls on the N-S Freeway project in Spokane as well as on the I-90 rebuild just east of Snoqualmie Pass.

    1. Would it be reasonable to assume that virtually 100% of all the new bus riders in this corridor since the tolls were put in place are “choice” riders — they could ride in a car if they wanted to, but they “chose” to take the bus instead of driving?

      1. Why do you put “chose” in scare-quotes. We all make choices every day based on time and monetary costs. I choose what kind of bread to buy based on the price. Does that mean bread companies are forcing me to buy the cheaper bread, so it is not a “choice?” No, that’s absurd.

  6. There is no victory for transit on SR 520. It’ll still mean the end of the Montlake freeway stop, with no similar connectivity to replace it.

    1. As someone that uses the Montlake freeway stop pretty regularly, I’m cautiously optimistic. Outside of peak hours the pattern looks something like what the 510/511/512 do at 45th, which is somewhat more pleasant and much more accessible than the existing flyer stop. During the peak it’s indeed less efficient to run extra buses to the U District… but riders will still be able to mix-and-match their east/west endpoints at Evergreen and Yarrow Point stations, right?

      1. The mixing and matching presumes there will be buses going all the way downtown on SR 520 after East Link opens. I just don’t see that happening. Maybe there will be a few express buses from Kirkland, but even that is doubtful.

        I’m confused on this point: Are buses going to be able to pull off SR 520 at Montlake, and then re-enter SR 520, or not?

      2. If Kirkland-downtown buses are truncated at Husky Stadium that’s a post-U Link plan, not a post-East Link plan, right? I’d personally have little problem with that. I’d still have a two-seat ride, and could still use the bus to avoid biking along 520 on days when the weather is too lousy to ride between the freeway and the lake. On the other hand, if all the Kirkland buses ran through Bellevue post-East Link that would suck mightily — I’d have a three-seat ride through two downtowns that have nothing to do with my trip. Oddly, I haven’t heard much about specific bus network changes along this corridor at all from Metro.

        When the Montlake Lid is finished, buses should be able to pull off 520, serve Montlake, and get back on, according to WSDOT. I can’t find a detailed/useful map of the Lid, only stupid renderings. So it may be that there’s some ridiculous pattern that buses have to use to go through. But in the absense of evidence to the contrary I’m assuming the bus stops will be like the I-5/NE 45th St. ones, only probably more pleasant (if only because 520 is smaller/less noisy than I-5).

        The suggested service pattern is really similar to the I-5/NE 45th St. pattern, where forward-peak 510/511/512 buses don’t serve the freeway station because they’re running in the express lanes, and CT instead sends 8xx routes all the way into UW campus.

  7. There is another reason why everyone should wait a while before putting a lot of credence into traffic counts on 520 and related highways.

    I would bet that quite a few of the people crossing the 520 bridge who do not have transponders are not even aware that they are going to be mailed a bill for the toll for crossing that bridge, let alone that there will be an extra $1.50 charge for each crossing. And even the people with transponders might not realize exactly how high these tolls are going to mount up each month.

    In other words, I suspect a lot of people who use the 520 bridge now are not fully aware of just how much those trips are costing them, since they don’t have to pay when they cross.

    Wait a few months until everyone understands just how much those tolls are going to cost them per month, before people will make their final decision on whether or not to use the 520 bridge, how often to use it, and what time of day to use it, and what alternative they might choose instead.

    Just wait until those first bills arrive in the mail for the new tolls. I predict a lot of shocked and outraged drivers. A lot of people have just not been paying any attention to this story.

    1. In other words, quite a few drivers crossing the 520 bridge are completely oblivious to the many signs saying “TOLL BRIDGE” well before they even get on 520. I’m not surprised.

      1. There are a lot of people who don’t realize that they can be charged a toll even though they don’t have a pass. They will figure, “I saw the signs for a toll bridge, but there was no place to pay”, so they didn’t have to pay. These people are going to be surprised when they get a bill in the mail for tolls.

        But, even people who know they will have to pay, won’t realize how much it is going to cost them per month. They have not bothered to figure that out, and many people are going to be amazed at how much the toll adds up to over a month.

    2. So in other words, public policy should be tailored for the willfully ignorant? If anyone besides a visitor doesn’t know this is a toll road, they deserve the extra charge. Sheesh.

    3. Shocking high tolls. Shocking. It is roughly the price of a gallon of gasoline, Mr Norman. Just like it was in 1964. [ad hom]

      1. The toll on the 520 bridge was 35 cents. It was collected until the middle of 1979.

        Ad 35-cent toll in 1979 would be the equivalent of about a $1.15 toll today, when adjusted for inflation. The actual peak-hour toll on the 520 bridge now is $3.50 with a transponder, which is ten times higher than the old toll, or about 3 times higher than the old toll would be when adjusted for inflation.

        Has your income increased by ten times since 1979?

        The median household income in the U.S. in 1979 was $15,112. In 2010 (last year available) it was $48,753. So, incomes have increased by about 3.2 times since 1979, but the 520 toll has gone up 10 times (in peak hours), from 35 cents in 1979 to $3.50 in 2011.

        Also, the toll on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is $2.75 ROUND-TRIP with a transponder. Round-trip on the 520 bridge in peak hours with a transponder is $7.00 — well over twice the cost of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll.

      2. The toll on the Narrows is going up; way up. It has to to pay of the debt. The low rates now are just part of the “easy them into it” and then slam the door.

      3. 1. $3.50 is the peak toll. I don’t know what the average toll is, but it will be less than that.

        2. The new bridge will be much larger than the old bridge. To me this is crazy – traffic volumes were down before the toll, and down another 30% after the toll. Why do we think we need a bigger bridge?

        3. I’d be surprised if the cost of concrete and steel followed inflation costs. They’ve likely raised faster than inflation.

      4. (a quick Google search tells me that in the past 15 years concrete prices were 20% higher than inflation, and steel reinforcement bar was over 50% higher. this adds up over time. concrete and steel follow energy prices more than inflation, since they take a whole lot of energy to create.)

      5. “traffic volumes were down before the toll, and down another 30% after the toll. Why do we think we need a bigger bridge?”

        “Down” doesn’t mean “light traffic”, it just means “less severely congested than before”. 520 has been humongously over capacity for thirty years: that’s why they shoehorned a 3-person HOV lane into the right shoulder that’s shared by the exit ramps. Normally the HOV lane would be on the left, and it would be 2-person rather than 3-person. But 520 was so severely overcrowded they had to do something in the existing space. The bridge itself has no room for HOV lanes, that’s why the buses get caught in a backup all the way to I-5 and Montlake every morning and afternoon. My rule of thumb is, “Never take 520 in the daytime except weekend mornings, unless you’re going to Kirkland and then just suffer with it.” People have so much pent-up frustration with that bridge that expanding it seems like a no-brainer, and that the volume of traffic really requires three lanes each direction plus an HOV lane — and we’re actually getting one lane less than that.

      6. @Matt: Even if they built another 4-lane bridge (either with or without HOV lanes) the new bridge would have to be at least a little bigger to add the bike/pedestrian path, which should get tons of traffic despite the unpleasantness of being between the freeway the water.

        I’d have loved to see the new bridge have just one HOV and one general-purpose lane in each direction. It surely would have been a lead balloon politically… I think I’d rather have what we’re getting than a copy of old bridge with no HOV, but I’m sort of conflicted.

      7. @Mike: Development and commute patterns adjust around the transportation options available. Currently people jam 520 with SOV traffic because there’s no benefit to doing anything else. With an HOV lane there’s probably still going to be some congestion in the other lanes, but there will at least be a way around the congestion — this allows more efficient commute practices to win, as they should, absorbing people’s travel demand without adding so many vehicles to the road.

        Adding another general purpose lane to 520 would be madness. There are three places traffic from 520 goes in Seattle: Lake Washington Boulevard, Montlake Boulevard, and I-5. Which one of those can handle extra traffic? None. So say we expand all of them — when that puts even more pressure on the streets of the urban core we can build a bunch more freeways, until we become Los Angeles North! HELL NO. If SOV traffic is congested in the peak but there’s a way around via transit, that’s exactly how it’s should work.

      8. What Al said. I could live with a little bigger for a bike lane. But we should have at least tried for one HOV and one GP lane. The current design is massive. I’m tired of spending billions and billions of dollars for SOV drivers to sit around in their own fumes. Adding tolls, converting a lane to HOV, and repairing the structural issues would have been a fine fix.

      9. repairing the structural issues would have been a fine fix.

        With what, duct tape? The bridge is already sitting 3′ lower in the water than when built because of the weight of all the patching and shoring that’s been done. That’s why the waves crash over the side and the bridge gets closed in windstorms. Floating bridge == pontoon bridge == marine vessel == limited lifespan. A ferro-cement hull only lasts 50 years at best.

      10. I thought we were replacing it because the hollow columns aren’t earthquake safe (perhaps too simple answer: fill them with concrete).

        If it’s just the pontoons, replace the pontoons. The real money isn’t in the pontoons, it’s all of the work they’re doing to expand the roadway on both sides.

      11. From WSDOT:

        How many cracks in the bridge pontoons have been repaired?
        Crews have repaired more than 30,000 linear feet of cracks since the 1993 Inaugural Day storm.

        They are replacing the pontoons; which is the same thing as building a new bridge. The anchor cables are shot, the opening mechanism is shot (doesn’t always close and killed someone a few years ago). The expansion joints are shot. The columns don’t meet current seismic standards. The lane width and shoulders don’t meet current highway standards. There’s no bike/ped access. It’s not good for anything except an underwater reef and the hope is that it will become one somewhere other than where it currently is anchored. What will be interesting is what they do with I-90 in about 30 years since the new 520 won’t open and I think the depth under the high rises at each end doesn’t have sufficient draft to float new pontoons in and out.

      12. @Norman

        That’s a good calculation. The flip side is that 35 cents when the tolling started in 1961 is equivalent to $2.52 in 2010 dollars. So, the price is almost identical to the current average.

        One could go even further because real disposable personal income has increased *five* times since then—so in that sense, this toll hurts people way, way, way less than it used to.

    4. Norman,

      I expect there will be many people saying, “But I don’t have a Good To Go Pass. Why am I being charged a toll to cross the bridge?” Yeah, there will be a lot more complaining in about a month after the first ‘mail-in’ tolls are being charged.

      1. Toll Lanes, Toll Roads/Bridges and Perimeter Tolls, while all being serviced by the same ITS industry, are three very different pricing mechanisms.

        And balls of wax.

  8. Montlake blvd was magnificent at 8:40. If people do start becoming used to paying the toll and start clogging that road again, I hope they jack the toll to $6 to compensate! Montlake not being a parking lot is reward enough; revenue for a new bridge is just icing.

    1. I used to commute from the U District to Bellevue every day, and Montlake was the worst part of my day. I would have happily paid a little extra to avoid all that.

    2. If this is true, (I haven’t been through there this week) I look forward to vastly improved service on the 48.

      1. The northbound 48 around 7:00am from Yesler is definitely seeing higher ridership on 1/3 and 1/4/12 up to Montlake (where I get off to catch 542 or 545). Of course only 2 days of experience so far since most people started going back to work and school post-holidays, but more people than average on that run. Montlake interchange area itself has seemed nicely flowing so far as well.

      1. Why not just make the new 520 a transit only bridge? One lane for buses, and one lane for light rail each way.

        Clearly, 5, 90, and 405 are good enough to handle all the cars.

      2. If SR 520 is to be a transit-only bridge, why not just build it as such, and remove the automobile bridge? (That would include tearing out all that concrete in Portage Bay.)

        WSDOT should be subsidizing building Link across both I-90 and SR 520, as they are most certainly highway purposes.

        WSDOT should also pay attention to the statistics showing HOV travel being almost as much as SOV travel, and have half of its highway lanes be “family lanes”.

      3. I still think that the best way to incentivize HOV travel — and to optimize throughput in general — is not HOV-only lanes, but tolling. If per-vehicle tolls are high enough, there’s a natural incentive to carpool, simply to save money.

        Transit-only lanes are a different story. It makes sense to dedicate lanes to transit simply because transit vehicles operate in a very different way from other vehicles: they make frequent stops, and need much more surrounding space than other vehicles.

    1. I’m getting a free bridge. You might have to pay your toll if you drive across but I don’t.

  9. London and Stockholm (and Oslo and Bergen) are perimeter toll systems. Entirely different ball of wax.

  10. I would also like to know if the decreased disturbance of 520 flow into I-5 and I-405 optimizes those routes as well.

    This has been one of my pet theories and a reason why I have have advocated doing away with this bridge altogether…however, putting a burden that significantly reduces traffic as Good2Go does would have some of the same effect.

    1. it is a lot easier now for tunnel busses heading north from downtown to make it past 520 (in the AM) … don’t know about the other direction in the evening rush hour though

    2. Maybe parts of those roads near 520; shouldn’t I-5 and 405 traffic get worse near I-90, though?

      By reasoning similar to the induced-demand theory, if there’s a consistent, long-term decrease in travel times on I-5 people will adjust their development and commuting patterns until that decrease is eaten up by extra non-520 related trips. Only 520 itself would see a real long-term reduction in congestion. This adjustment would, of course, happen much faster in a late-90s economy (booming construction, super-cheap energy, high employment, optimism, fewer underwater mortgages) than it would today.

  11. I think it’s very interesting (or telling) that the newspaper headline last week when tolls went live proclaimed, “40,000 less drivers after tolls!” when it could have just as easily been, “40% less congestion after tolls!” (especially given that there was not a 40k increase on 90 that day).

    1. Actually, because the relationship between volume and congestion isn’t linear, you can get rid of 5% or 10% of volume and still result in 40% less congestion.

      1. True, there is a tipping point. That’s why I’m concerned about the choke points at the bridge deck where the HOV lane ends and at the 405/522 interchange. It’s just as true that give the right circumstances a 40% decrease in volume only nets a 10% decrease in congestion.

    2. A lot of the congestion that the bus has to go through getting from Redmond to Seattle comes from merging traffic from northbound I-405, about 1/4 mile before the HOV lane begins. However the cars coming from 405 further south are precisely the ones that would be able to divert to I-90 with minimal time penalty, assuming I-90 isn’t a parking lot. A smoother merge after 405 should speed up bus trips through that area considerably.

      1. There will be a smoother merge for buses once the HOV lanes move to the inside. For eastbound SR520 traffic, the Bellevue Braids project should help a lot too.

      2. The real problem with the cars merging from northbound 405 onto westbound 520 is the inability of the drivers of said cars to merge properly. As the cars join 520 westbound, they have a few hundred yards to complete their merge, as the restricted HOV lane doesn’t start until just past the off-ramp to 108th St. But the people merging feel compelled to merge as quickly as possible–even if they have to come to a complete stop to do so. When these must-merge-immediately folks slow down dramatically or stop on the highway, traffic quickly builds behind them, and before you know it 520 is backed up all the way to Overlake. And once 520 is backed up prior to 405, bus trips from Redmond to Seattle tend to take twice as long.

        You can build all the bridges and inside HOV lanes you want, but as long as you have people who don’t know how to merge properly you’re going to have congestion on 520 westbound.

  12. I think you’re going to have to wait until the second quarter of 2012 and compare that to 2011 figures to start getting a accurate count on how much tolling has really affected traffic at certain points. than repeat a year later. I suspect you’re going to find a reduction of trips, along with diversion, followed by people simply paying the toll and increasing use of the highway in the following year(s). There comes a point where peoples time is worth more than their money, and those enlightend individuals, who have valid reason to cross the bridge (its not like theres little shopping or entertainment oppertunities on the eastside) will have no problems paying the fairly modest tolls to cross. Granted those using transit will probally remain doing so in this time period as they are only crossing to commute. It will be intresting to see what happens to the vehicle counts in 202x when Eastside LINK opens. While i understand the finincial, engineering, and construction headaches, it still seems like there has to be a way to get to get construction moving sooner than in the next decade.

  13. Ah, it’s happening. As of 8:00 today the WSDOT traffic flow map is showing SR520 as wide-open whereas I-90 is showing congestion. It is time to put a toll on I-90 to rebalance the traffic flows.

    Congestion pricing works…

  14. My observation has been the following.. your mileage of course may vary..

    Surface traffic in Downtown Seattle is down around REI (to get onto I-5N/SR-520E)and up around Safeco Field (those trying to get onto I-90). My guess those drivers that are trying to look for alternatives to get onto I-90 but it seems that the traffic is most definitely heavier for traffic going towards I-90.

    The other thing I have noticed is I-405 is much heavier than before the tolling started. I-405 seems to gone from semi moving parking lot to almost a stalled consistent parking lot. I really do hope WSDOT tolls I-405 and I-90 sooner than later..and this is coming from a middle class driver and transit user.

    Yes, SR-520 tolling has worked in terms of congestion pricing and reducing but now WSDOT just needs to work the bugs out on local surface street lights that have been re-timed around the 520 corridor. There does seem to be ramp back ups in the morning and evening hours(at least per Komo 1000) that weren’t there previously.

    Lastly, ridership on Sounder has jumped up a tick with south enders taking the train and bus to the eastside. There is definitely a nice ripple effect.. it would be good to see more of this happen and more aggressively (with more of a push to tolling)

    Now, if the City of Seattle can fix the roads in SODO, I’d be a very happy person (and so would my car and especially my rims..)

  15. For amusement, go check out the Seattle Times comments on today’s story. The lack of understanding of (a) how roads are funded and (b) the true costs of driving is breathtaking.

    I’ve ridden the bus to Redmond for the past week – the difference is night & day, particularly at Montlake. The buses get from Montlake to Overlake perhaps 1-2 minutes slower than the (paying) cars now, including the usually needless stops in between. Delightful.

  16. I havent heard much complaining about the tolls. I would have expected a certain demographic to loudly complain about the tolls, after more than likely complaining about any other funding plan that dident involve tolls. Could it be people are starting to accept tolling as a viable, and fair way to pay for large highway infrastructure projects?

  17. The Times had an article today saying that most people just switched to I-90. One lady said she had to drive 7 miles out of the way to avoid a $3.50 toll each way because she couldn’t afford it. If you use the IRS/AAA calculation she’s paying $3.50 driving around too, it’s just deferred until later. Might as well pay the toll, help build a bridge, save time and break even on money.

    1. The Times of late seems to be suffering from major leakage between the editorial board and its daily reporting, mostly from the former to the latter. Did the article describe in reasonable detail the research methods used to deduce that “most people” switched, or are we left to guess at how this narrative was derived?

      Anecdotes are the foot soldiers of opinion.

  18. funny how the argument for congestion pricing changes according to the project and the politics. On the DBT congestion pricing would never work because everyone would pour onto the streets to avoid paying the toll, blanketing downtown in cars. but for the 520, suddenly everyone is taking transit. same argument, different outcome, according to who is reading the tea leaves and what that portends to their agenda.

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