After a soft open on Sunday, yesterday marked the first full weekday of the I-405 Express Toll Lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood. During off-peak hours, SOV drivers will pay between $0.75-$10.00 for the privilege of using the lanes, while HOV 2+ will use them for free. During peak hours – 5-9am and 3-7pm – only transit and HOV3+ will get free use of the lanes.
A quick scan of Twitter (using #405ETL) revealed an expected mix of praise of frustration from commuters. For a large portion of yesterday’s travel, the Express Toll Lanes saved drivers nearly an hour,with $0.75 buying a 20-minute trip from Lynnwood to Bellevue, compared to 70 minutes in the general purpose lanes. People who remained in the GP lanes for the 20-mile trip– rather than paying $0.75 to save 50 minutes – were effectively valuing their time at $0.90/hour.
In general, most urbanists support dynamic pricing to manage demand, and as a usage fee, tolls are a method of taxation that has some level of bipartisan support. Even as overall vehicle miles traveled are flat, peak congestion on our regional highways and HOV lanes has worsened significantly the past couple years, leading Sound Transit to quietly cut service back in June and requiring an additional $2m annual outlay from Community Transit to keep the same buses running on time. We wish the I-405 Express Toll Lanes all the best at keeping transit and carpools moving effectively. If you’re a rider on routes 237, 252, 257, 311, 342, 424, 532, 535, or 952, you can now look forward to a much faster and more reliable trip.
On this side of the lake we’re still waiting for any type of HOV priority between Northgate and Downtown Seattle, especially reverse peak, but it is encouraging to see the Eastside open these new lanes and inch us toward the systemwide tolling and transit priority we need.
Are you an I-405 commuter? How was your experience yesterday?