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A Republican bill to eliminate two of the four express toll lanes on I-405; eliminate tolls in the evening and early morning hours; and get rid of all HOT lanes on 405 in two years if they fail to maintain a speed of 45 mph 90 percent of the time, has a single, somewhat surprising Democratic sponsor: Sen. Cyrus Habib (D-48), a Bellevue resident who also happens to be running for lieutenant governor.

Habib (who prefaced his email response, “I was wondering when I would be asked about that!”) says he’s backing the bill because his “district is directly affected, and so I decided it was important for me to have a seat at the table as we take a look at what works and doesn’t work with the current express tolling dynamic there.

“I likely wouldn’t vote for the bill in its current form, but I do think we need to revisit how the program is being implemented. I hear more about this from my constituents than any other issue,” Habib says.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Andy Hill (R-45) in the senate and Rep. Mark Harmsworth (R-11) in the house, was introduced in response to a rash of complaints by 405 drivers about the amount solo drivers must pay to use the HOV lanes (up to $10 at peak hours), and about the perception that the lanes haven’t reduced congestion on the freeway.

“[HOT lanes are] not working; anybody who drives that corridor will tell you that,” Hill told the Senate transportation committee at a hearing for the bill yesterday. “People are very, very upset. They are experiencing increased congestion, despite what any stats might say.”

About those stats: As Josh reported yesterday on PubliCola, according to data collected by WSDOT, travel times on 405 have gone down, on average, 14 minutes for express-lane users, and 7 minutes for general-purpose lane drivers, since the lanes opened last September. Much as Hill may scoff at “stats,” and much as his house cohort Helmsworth may have testified yesterday about the “thousands and thousands” of complaints he said he has personally read about traffic on 405, it’s always helpful to remember that the plural of anecdote is not data. And the data, if it’s correct, says the lanes are doing what they’re supposed to do.

However, Habib says his constituents complain about another impact of the tolls: They’re regressive. “The absence of light rail and inadequate state of bus rapid transit has made it, combined with the 520 toll, financially difficult for the working poor and students, who have the least flexibility and resources,” he says. Habib says he’d like to explore the idea of converting one of the two existing HOT lanes to HOV-transit lanes “to give the program a chance to first develop on one lane. Express tolling without increased transit is regressive.”

Of course, WSDOT’s original proposal was to give drivers two years to get used to the new HOV lanes; if the bill Habib has signed on to were to pass in any form (its path to a hearing and vote seems far shakier in the house), it would upend that schedule and render HOT lanes on 405 an incomplete experiment.

76 Replies to “Republican Anti-Tolling Bill has One Democratic Sponsor: Bellevue’s Sen. Habib”

    1. LOL, I was about to post basically the same thing. So amusing to see self-professed “conservatives” being big fans of government-run enterprises furnishing subsidized services at below market cost.

    2. Some of the newer legislators may not have grasped that those who are unhappy will contact them at a much higher rate than those who benefit from a change.

      I hope bus riders start contacting their legislators now in opposition to the anti-tolling bills.

      I also suspect WSDOT is measuring trip time for vehicles, not people. Count a 532 bus as 50ish trips, and I bet the data will look resoundingly better.

      1. Some of the newer legislators may not have grasped that those who are unhappy will contact them at a much higher rate than those who benefit from a change.

        Copy that. It’s true of any online review you read. Few people take the time to write when something performs as expected; it has to be amazingly good. I’ve been pulling up the travel times most mornings when I have my morning cup-a-joe. Of course the time savings are huge in the ETL. The GP lanes are usually better, seldom worse. What is getting worse is the Renton to Bellevue times where they’ve done nothing.

        I just received an email from our Ross Hunter fill-in representative for the 48th, Patty Kuderer. She’s fallen into the black hole and can’t see the data from beyond the event horizon. Included in the email was a survey to express your opinions. I’m sure she’ll get deluged with opinions; hopefully enough people will respond with facts to balance out. The sad thing is, the people telling tales about their commute time being doubled since tolling started really believe they are telling the truth.

      2. Wow that survey is totally biased.

        I’m glad the link works. Once you take the survey if you click on it again it just says thanks for taking the survey. I think it’s based off your IP address. Yes, the survey is totally written from the perspective the express toll lanes are a disease that needs to be cured. And guess what, almost all the respondents will be the people most irked about paying tolls or pissed because other people are.

        In other news I noticed that WSDOT now has live reporting of the toll rates. You can get to it from the traffic map too. There’s a pinkish box right above “Kirkland” that says “Express Toll Rates”. And on the right side just above I-90 is a green box that links to “Snoqualmie Pass”.

      3. Those who benefit from the current situation (bus riders and those riding in carpools) might also not be aware that elimination is even being proposed. It’s hard for those just living from day to day at the bottom of the income scale to keep up with all political matters.

  1. The single HOV lane, at 2 people, was pretty close to useless, at least in the northbound direction in the afternoons. It generally moved as slowly if not slower than adjacent general purpose lanes.

    However for all the construction spent, and the marketing of this new express freeway, in practice there was zero new capacity between SR-522 and Lynnwood, just allowing people to pay to use it. And in the segment between SR-522 and NE 8th St, in many areas where 2 lanes were created this was done by eliminating merge lanes and ramp lanes, creating brand new chokepoints.

    I too anecdotally find it incredulous that general purpose traffic has improved, and I suspect that with data in this kind of field, the person with the data can select which data they choose to present. My guess is that the key is the phrase “full corridor average” — you have to wonder what weights they put on figures to create this average.

    I think there are significant new chokepoints – particularly leaving Bellevue and SR-520 to get on I-405 which is an area where a general purpose lane was effectively lost, as well as southbound between Kirkland and SR-520, where a lane that led to 520 was lost.

    I don’t think eliminating tolls is the right answer, nor is converting one of the lanes to a general purpose lane given how poorly the freeway functioned before. But I don’t think the high functions better for general purpose traffic than it did before – and WS-DOT would perhaps do better not trying to keep making that argument which just hurts their credibility. Perhaps they can show that GP is still transporting the same number of vehicles per hour (if it is) while HOT now moves many more, increasing mobility – and that while you can make the point that the rich who can afford the toll benefit, in practice there is no way to build enough capacity for free flowing general purpose traffic, so you have to allocate the resource, and tolling at least lets transit and carpools move. And transit should be an open for low income folks.

    The real crime is that other than the NE 128th St interchange (which I think ST funded but toll vehicles may use) there is essentially zero transit infrastructure between Lynnwood and NE 6th St in Bellevue. There are no good transit ramps to/from SR-520 or to/from SR-522 or any other exits used by buses, nor are there any good transit stops at the key intersections (like NE 70th or 85th, Brickyard, Mill Creek, etc.) WS-DOT could have built some better transit infrastructure to make this lane more useful and perhaps then it would also support more service and allow for more connections. I suppose that is a potential place to spend ST3 funds, but I really don’t like spending our dedicated transit money on road projects that aren’t dedicated to transit and can be taken away by whims of the legislature.

    1. Agreed with all of this. Well said, Carl.

      I live in Sen. Habib’s district, and so far the ETL (which we defended before) has been disappointing in improving our mobility. The whole thing so far has just ended up a sprawl enabler. If you are commuting to Bellevue from Everett or Lynnwood, your trip has improved. If you are trying to get around Kirkland, things are worse. I don’t often drive on 405 but when I do, a common trips is NE 70th to NE 128th. Before, I could get in the HOV lane right away. Now I have to wait until well after the 85th St onramps (access point is around 100th), and it certainly feels like there’s more congestion to fight through.

      Also the 520 choke point is much worse for us now that we’ve lost our exit-only lane NB at 70th.

      Is WSDOT measuring actual user experience, or just flow rates? When they give travel times do they account for fighting your way across the congestion to get to the ETL?

      I vehemently agree that more general purpose lanes are not the answer. I’m pretty well convinced that widening 405 for the toll lane was a mistake.

      I don’t know the answer, I just know that this experiment has been really disappointing for those of us that don’t live in the sprawl.

      1. Devil’s advocate. Why are you using 405 to travel between 70th to 128th? Aren’t the freeways meant for long-distance trips such as Bellevue to Lynnwood and Bellevue to Bellingham? Aren’t the people who use them to travel within Kirkland or other cities the ones who are pushing the freeways beyond their capacity and causing the slowdowns? Isn’t it anti-urban to use freeways for local trips within a city, thus contributing to the freeway’s destruction of the urban fabric? Shouldn’t local people support local boulevards?

      2. Mike, just throwing in my two cents. Having lived in Rochester, NY, I know that there’s plenty of support for using freeways to get around a city or to get between suburbs. Take for instance I-590, I-490, NY-940T (aka the Inner Loop) (all three Rochester), and I-190 (in Buffalo). They’re all built with the express purpose of getting around the city and between suburbs quickly. Sometimes, it’s just faster to hop on a freeway for a couple exits and hop off than it is to take the stop and go of surface streets. In fact the creation of the Inner Loop in Rochester forced my university to abandon their downtown campus and build a brand new campus in the southern suburb of Henrietta in the 60’s.

        Of course, I’m playing devil’s advocate, too. I hate driving on freeways, so I’d much rather drive the stop/go route of the B line along 8th St and 156th than jump on 520 to go between Redmond and Bellevue. But this sort of comparison really does make me wonder what it would be like if they ever built the R.H. Thomson Expressway.

      3. If anything Mike, the short hopper on the highway between two ends of the city is what we should indulge, not the long commuter going suburb to suburb. This allows for slower surface streets with reduced congestion which enhances pedestrian experience and general quality of life.

      4. That means eliminate parking requirements and make it easy to build dense housing along transit corridors!

      5. I’m using 405 to travel between 70th and 128th because I don’t want to contribute to traffic on 124th Ave. And also because it’s still a little faster, even with the congestion.

      6. And I wouldn’t drive it at all if there were decent bike infrastructure (meaning quiet streets that actually connect, which is what I ride in south Kirkland) in north Kirkland!

      7. Dear Mr. Devil:

        Oh, Please. If I want to go from Lake City to Wallingford, you bet your ass I’m going to use the freeway. This is a very short trip (first exit — never leaving the right lane). I’m not going to go out of my way and use the side streets just out of principle. If this screws up some poor guy’s long distance trip from Martha Lake to Fife, then I’m sorry. I would certainly prefer the freeway not go through the city, but what’s done is done.

    2. “zero new capacity between SR-522 and Lynnwood”

      But what has happened to demand? Are more people opting to use buses or carpool, reducing the number of single-occupant vehicles choking the general purpose lanes?

      Hypothetically, if you turn every SOV-occupant into a 2-person carpool, you’ve eliminated nearly half the vehicles with zero reduction in capacity, leaving a faster drive for the vehicles still on the road.

      1. “But what has happened to demand?”

        you’ve shifted all 2 person carpools to the GP lanes unless they pay. The HOV lane used to be completely clogged. Now you’ve basically pushed a good chunk of those cars into the GP lanes without expanding capacity.

        To put it a different way, north of 522 you had effectively three GP lanes – the carpool lane was as clogged as the other two. Now you have basically 2.5 lanes because one of them is being limited to less traffic to keep it flowing faster. South of 522 another lane was added, so the capacity is probably similar to what it was before, except for the chokepoints that have been mentioned, which were caused primarily by removing extra entry/exit lanes.

      2. “Now you have basically 2.5 lanes because one of them is being limited to less traffic to keep it flowing faster.”

        Lanes that are moving faster support more vehicles than congested ones. Just think about it: a hundred cars bumper to bumper but at a dead stop is zero flow. The higher the speed the more cars that can move through a given length of road, even accounting for following distances that increase with with speed.

      3. According to highway engineers, on a roadeay with sufficiently wide lanes, 42-45 mph produced the greatest throughput. Above that following distances begin to eat up the additional volume.

  2. “They are experiencing increased congestion, despite what any stats might say.”

    As usual, facts and evidence be dammned! People are pissed since it feels like those paying are moving faster and they’re not happy.

    I wonder what sort of stats (be dammed) Sen. Habib has to support the poor and students are being adversely impacted by these toll lanes. Maybe he should gather more support for robust transit along the 405 area to help these two demographics that are highly likely to use transit. I’m sure owning and operating a car is a much bigger burden on students and the poor than a toll to go 10mph faster.

    1. Damn straight, Charles. Except add “-only, and with barriers and ramps! But for starters, rather than have this argument go on for years, since it smells as old and moldy as the Breda fleet, let’s take the general-purpose advocates at their word.

      Since there aren’t any barriers now, let’s just erase the lines, turn off the signs, and let 405 become the I-5 of the East. Providing plenty of objective data, simple and in plain sight. And then, since the paint stripes and monitoring equipment are still there, either leave them turned off, turn them back on, or install those jersey barriers. Themselves portable.

      Five years should give everybody the data they’re demanding. In public works, years-long delays are fairly common. Whether they’re acting like it or not, the Waterfront tunnel participants, and their attorneys, are right now budgeting for five years’ work whose redults change nothing transit-wise for six or seven.

      Which will give some of us the same unhurried amount of time to be ready with a really strong transit plan for next would-be co-Governor to advocate. Exactly like Tom Paine said in the Age of It, Reason always loses to Time.

      Ask anybody looking at their car clock on I-5 and reasoning that their pink slip might just as well be slipped under their windshield wiper.

      Mark Dublin

      1. WSDOT secret agenda recently revealed: Turn I-405 lanes into Moscow style grand boulevards, where politburo elites can travel at speed limits +5 in their black Mercedes – or alternately line up all state owned construction equipment for their annual May Day celebration.
        Seriously, WSDOT has some major credibility issues. I look at that graph and only wonder how the data is skewed to hide the dirty laundry that MUST be there. When will anyone see a fair accounting for how much was and will continue to be spent on this, for how much actual revenue will be available for ‘non-ETL’ purposes, like fixing things. I suspect the only ones making ends meet are all the employees and vendors that keep the ETL looking profitable and the wave of the future for all freeways here.

      2. The issue is that if you drive all the way from Bellevue to Lynnwood your commute has probably gotten better. If you don’t drive the whole distance, the results are mixed. The 520 and 522 interchanges are both now more congested than they were before. For buses, 405-only buses have gotten much better (Totem Lake to Bellevue is reliably just over 10 min now whereas it used to be 20-30), and 520405 buses are probably the same (longer to merge but faster once they get to the ETLs). For example, the 311 takes 20-25 minutes from Yarrow Point to Totem Lake (8 miles). 15-20 minutes of that is getting to the ETL, and 5 min is from there to Totem Lake.

  3. Coming from the east coast, where almost all of the interstate highways are tolled and always will be tolled no matter what lane you are in, I find it somewhat comical the aversion to tolls out here. People seem to miss the point of the tolls–it is meant to DISCOURAGE you from driving alone. Adding an extra lane only encourages more people to drive rather than being persuaded to take public transit or carpool. I don’t get why this concept is so difficult for people to grasp.

    1. Heck we can’t even get people to agree to raise the gas tax, which is a pretty decent way to toll roads, giving credit for driving more fuel efficient cars.

      One real problem is that WS-DOT has done nothing to make this road work well for transit. The buses can’t make any stops other then NE 128th without crossing GP lanes, they can’t get onto other roads, either. Buses that can’t stop don’t do much for anyone. Really no different south of Bellevue on 405 either.

      1. Case in point. For forty year one bus or another has run on 405 stopping at 70th and 132nd. What’s wrong with this picture? Downtown Kirkland is at 85th, not 70th, but anyone who wants to go there (which is almost everyone) has to take the non-freeway buses which take three times as long to get from Bellevue to 85th. And people wonder why transit has such low mode share! We can talk about reconfiguring the 85th interchange to make it transfer-friendly, but why wasn’t this done decades ago? Then it would have gotten more federal funding and a state legislature more willing to spend on maintaining existing infrastructure.

      2. It hasn’t been done because most people want a 60 mph commute from their front door to their office without paying a penny – particularly not for infrastructure. Obviously if we made all the bus users pay their fair share (and especially the bicyclists) there would be no funding problems and there wouldn’t need to be any reason for this discussion.

      3. Very funny, David. (I assume that was a joke? Otherwise, keep in mind that there aren’t any bicyclists on 405. And where there are bicyclists, they cause so little damage to the pavement that their “fair share” would be less than the cost of collecting the fees.)

      4. Wait, what do you mean there are no bicyclists on 405? I thought that was the cause of all traffic problems – there must be a bike lane on 405!

        I guess I must have learned something from all the commenters on the Seattle times :) Entertaining (and somewhat worrisome) to read occasionally.

      5. Ah, that’s why everyone’s going so slow on 405! They must be stuck behind cyclists pacing each other in every lane!

        Watch out for the double-tandem bikes in the HOV lane!

    2. True, Matt, but one difference: the East Coast already has a hundred miles of long-existing transit for every one mile of ours, including the majority of our route length which for years have been only in purple lines with dots.

      Two hours’ flight between Sea-Tac and Oakland airports- which is less travel time than through the city of Seattle-will let you compare the length and time of your BART ride into town with your LINK ride to our airport.

      Fortunately, average time stuck in one place on I-5 alone is every hour giving drivers and passengers plenty of time to conceive not only the transit we need, but the generation of voters who will vote it in!


      1. It’s between 34 and 40 minutes between OAK and Embarcadero (I just did this trip), so about the same as Link from SEA to downtown Seattle. Of course, that includes a shuttle to Coliseum station and whatever the wait for the Green or Blue line train is there.

        From SFO on the Yellow it’s 32 minutes, so still not much different. (Link does feel slower going through the Rainier Valley, and may be as I didn’t calculate the various distances, but it’s still an airport–downtown comparison.)

    3. Tolls exist back east because that was the original revenue source for those private highways. They were adopted as part of the US Interstate system later on, but the tolls were grandfathered in. It is heavily ingrained to the culture there.

      Additionally, you have 10x the number of people, and transit infrastructure that already exists. That doesn’t exist here.

      1. Additionally, you have 10x the number of people, and transit infrastructure that already exists. That doesn’t exist here.

        So what you’re saying is tolling is the next step in the evolution from Wild West to Wired West?

  4. It’s not any worse than it was before. I drive 405 often and my commute is reversed but I haven’t seen an increase in travel time. Cars still block the left lane going 50 mph, but we knew that wouldn’t change. I think my perspective isn’t fair since I never really got stuck in traffic before the changes, but it hasn’t made my commute worse. I can also say that 405 was a parking lot in the opposite direction before any toll changes.

    Which leads me to my final point, people keep forgetting that they added the additional lane as a GP lane temporarily and then took it away. I think that WSDOT always is showing numbers from before that temporary GP lane was in the mix. So people are thinking about how things were during the dry summer of 2015 and not the rainy wet winter of 2014 which didn’t have the extra lane.

    1. Since the reverse commute wasn’t congested before, you haven’t experienced the change in bottlenecks. I think there is a new bottleneck southbound between about 85th and SR-520 that didn’t exist before – perhaps because it eliminated the southbound exit lane.

      The exit and merge lanes that disappeared were built before the HOT project started, as part of the previous 405 widening, and were never described as temporary. In this project WS-DOT didn’t create new lanes everywhere, and shortened or eliminated some of the lanes. Another place a lane was lost was between about SR-520 and NE 70th.

      I’m not a fan of more GP lanes and not opposed to tolling. But I am a fan of truthfulness and transparency. I think it helps the debate.

  5. Usually when people start saying something is regressive, calls to subsidize people soon follows. Hold onto your wallets.

      1. No, more of an ORCA LIFT type of thing, but for Good2Go passes. Usually how it goes is … regressive = unfair to poor. So their toll bills should be subsidized by all other toll-payers. Or they have special low-income Good2Go passes that charge a fraction of regular toll rates.

      2. This is drifting way off topic, but there is a common thread between HOT lanes and ORCA LIFT: They help reduce travel time on bus trips.

  6. From what I’ve heard it’s mixed, but the problem area is due to widening one part of the corridor, bringing more traffic into the other part of the corridor that was not widened. Northbound, five lanes now narrow to three at SR 522. That’s made a bottleneck at SR 527 worse in the northbound direction, not the tolling. Southbound’s working fine, and trips south of SR 522 where there are now two express toll lanes seem to be working as expected. The new problem is a capacity issue that’s been exposed, and it’s only northbound and only north of SR 522. Stopping tolling won’t fix this, and could make it worse.

  7. The travel time stats are a good measure, but the other one that’s really telling is the “average weekday trips” stat. Total trips have *increased* even as travel times have decreased. So not only are we moving people faster, we’re moving *more* people faster. I can’t understand how this couldn’t be perceived a success all around.

  8. “I hear more about this from my constituents than any other issue,” Habib says.

    Because that’s the East Side – driving. That’s how you do anything – EVERYTHING in your life. You drive there. In your own car. Mostly by yourself. It’s mostly what you do outside sleeping and working.

    1. “I hear more about this from my constituents than any other issue,” Habib says.

      Because that’s the East Side – driving. That’s how you do anything – EVERYTHING in your life. You drive there. In your own car. Mostly by yourself. It’s mostly what you do outside sleeping and working.

      I’m pretty sure Habib doesn’t drive himself anywhere. Never been a supporter of the guy myself; too liberal and a lawyer, two strikes. But he is sharp and jumping in bed with “the enemy” I sense is a stroke of political genius. Now I’m just afraid.

  9. “The absence of light rail and inadequate state of bus rapid transit has made it, combined with the 520 toll, financially difficult for the working poor and students,”

    A complaint that was noticeably ABSENT when we were merely building infrastructure that presumed the expense of owning and maintaining a car was the cost of entry.

    I’m sorry, but that part of our region made its bed. We can try to make it better, but if they want to ride their grandparents’ infrastructure into the ground, occasionally tacking on inadequate, short term relief for the next generation, let them. Seattle drags the East Side like a boat anchor on most mass transit votes (though, lately, much less so) toward modernity.

    1. Can’t resist responding to the last part of this – Seattle drags the Eastside into approving region-wide taxes… but there’s a benefit from that if the Eastside provides a disproportionate share of that revenue while consuming less than it’s share of the resources.

      1. Except they provided zero of that revenue for the Bus expansion, which the Eastside voted down, so Seattle went it alone. Now they are complaining about crappy busses (to be fair, probably different people complaining, but who knows?).

    2. So because BRT is inadequate and the tolls aren’t maintaining 45 mph for buses, we scrap the HOT lanes and make it worse for buses. How about we start with the premise that buses need to run full speed, and base the other things around that. Converting the toll lanes to GP lanes gives the opposite incentive: SOV congestion is the most important issue, and one car is as important as one bus even though the car carries one person and the bus carries fifty people in just two cars’ footprint.

      The one thing I like about Habib’s position is converting two lanes to transit+HOV. But does HOV mean 2+ or 3+? It has to be 3+ to avoid impeding transit. That needs to be an inseparable part of this proposal. But I’m afraid of latching a transit+HOV proposal onto a wider anti-toll, anti-high-capacity vehicle movement. Because part of it could pass (the anti-toll part) but not the other part (transit priority).

      If the Legislature does eliminate the tolls, it would have to backfill the revenue the tolls would have generated, especially the part used to pay for the project. How would it do that when it doesn’t want to raise the gas tax or any other tax?

      1. Yeah, that is the key issue. His statements (or this post) was rather vague. For example, they want to “get rid of all HOT lanes on 405 in two years if they fail to maintain a speed of 45 mph 90 percent of the time”. Fair enough. This sounds like a good thing!

        It should apply to all HOV and HOT lanes.. Really, we should be jumping on this. If the HOV/HOT lane can’t maintain a speed of 45 MPH 90% of the time, then it is a failure. Keep raising the HOV requirement until it does. Start with HOV3, then HOV4, etc. This is all very reasonable policy.

        I’ve never been too fond of the current tolling mechanism. I understand it, and it has potential, but it always seemed optimistic to me. Raise the tolls so high that people won’t drive in it just to save a few minutes. Except then you set a limit ($10) that you think will never be popular. But of course it will be. If I have deliveries to make, for example, it just makes financial sense to pay that fee. If I have a hot date, then you bet your ass I’m paying the extra $10 (“Sorry we missed the play, honey, but I was too cheap to pay the toll — nice outfit — want to see what is on TV?”). Then there is the fact that this area is new to tolls and hates them. But we also have a strong preference for making everyone pay. It doesn’t bother me in the least if Mr. Money Bags over there cruises by in the fancy lane, but it obviously bothers lots of people.

        The thing is, if you turn this into a regular lane, then everyone loses. That is the one thing that is often lost in these discussions. It is like complaining about the handful of disabled parking spots. Yes, it would be nice to use that spot, but if it was available to you, then it would be available to everyone, and you wouldn’t get it. There are about 200 spots in the parking lot — those 2 extra spots aren’t going to make a difference. Likewise with this. The number of people being carried in these HOT lanes is much higher than the regular purpose lanes. Make them all regular purpose or even HOV 2 lanes and people stop bothering with 3 person car pools or taking the bus. Suddenly all the traffic is worse than ever. Not a smart idea.

        So, yes, converting these to HOV3 (and not HOT) is not a bad idea. But converting them to general purpose, or even HOV2 is just stupid policy and would hurt everyone.

      2. I think quite a bit of the capital expended was Federal. If the State reneges, it may be on the hook for some repayment.

  10. Senator Hill’s statement of “[HOT lanes are] not working; anybody who drives that corridor will tell you that.” is directly contradicted by constituents (mostly transit riders, myself included) who have emailed him to tell him how the HOT lanes have vastly improved the situation south of SR-522. He and others backing the bills are simply ignoring the significant improvement that the 2nd lane has brought to bus service. My commute to downtown from Kirkland is a full 10 and sometimes 15 minutes faster with the changes.

    That said I totally agree that north of SR522 is a complete disaster, failing to add capacity, particularly through the interchange @ 522 was inexcusable. Also having driven NB 405 for close to 15 years the elimination of the “long merge” that the lane to NE 70th permitted was also a mistake.

    1. It makes sense if you start with the premise that only drivers count, so bus riders’ experience is irrelevant. (They should be glad their subsidized bus is running at all, not asking for more handouts. Gosh, I’m sounding like Sam today. Must be the topic.)

      1. Yeah we are a 1 rides the bus and 1 drives household, both on 405. It’s interesting that both of us are pretty happy with the change. Between the two of us we are probably saving 5 to 6 hours per week, and more when we have a week with particularly bad weather.

      2. “It makes sense if you start with the premise that only drivers count, so bus riders’ experience is irrelevant.” You mean like on Aurora starting next week.

    2. Some bus operators drive that route too, lest Sen. Hill forget. They are hopefully giving him an exact opposite earful to his refusal-to-look-at-the-evidence grandstanding. I wonder if he denies climate change, too.

  11. What I’d like to see if good data on start and end points of commute trips along the 405 corridor (including inflow from other areas – 522, 5, 527, etc… and all the local areas out to Redmond in the East and Kenmore to the west). Most good bus service right now is Lynnwood to Bellevue. Is that where people are actually going? The Seattle buses are completely full, but there are fewer of express buses to there (the 311) than the 405 buses (532/535, which are also full at peak). There are no express buses to Redmond or south beyond Bellevue. Is this what we should have, or are planners just guessing?

  12. First of all, some math. Taking the 405 HOT lane 200 round-trip times a year at its frequently-reached highest rate ($10 each way or $20 round trip) comes out to $4000. This is huge considering the “alternative” once on the freeway is even worse commute travel time!

    When a government asks for increased financial costs of anywhere near this magnitude, they have created political weather conditions for a backlash. Even though there may be a choice for the driver, there are enough people out there that would be so bothered that they will work for change somehow. This should not surprise no one.

    The 520 tolling was rolled out much better strategically. Tolling is at lower rates, and the payers could see the corridor projects next to the road, so it’s a much easier sell to them.. In addition, the wider 520 bridge tolling sell includes better transit as part of the package (especially new HOV lanes).

    Here, WSDOT has created a huge financial cost to some people, and yet not developed corridor operations strategies with transit operators and cities to give the drivers some choices or make travel work better. Did they build a new park-and-ride garage with some of the money, and charge for its use to pay for non-stop buses to BTC, Overlake or Factoria? No. Did they create an information system that gives drivers more choices than huge delays or pay us $10 when they hit the freeway? No. Honestly, WSDOT looks like a hustler here, mainly extracting large sums of money at the most painful moment in a driver’s journey that a driver is willing to pay more to ease their pain.

    There may be honorable intent to the system. Still, WSDOT did not adequately plan out any strategies to substantially ease the financial pain for a few years. A sudden additional cost of this magnitude is not something many people will accept without pushback. It’s no wonder that a bill like this has evolved.

    I think that shows the strategic ineptness of WSDOT staff (and arrogance to ignore the political fallout of sudden financial impacts to drivers) that they did not consider how to create a progressive strategy to phase in the tolling in a less financially painful way for drivers. They created this problem and it’s up to them to either fix it or suffer the consequences.

    1. That $4000 isn’t terribly out of line when you consider that bus riders will be paying $1420 a year to commute between counties on routes 532 and 535. (Or $1188 a year for LIFT holders, in case Sam was wondering.)

      Want to save money while accessing the HOT lanes? Ride the bus, or join a carpool or vanpool.

    2. Al S., you say “This is huge considering the “alternative” once on the freeway is even worse commute travel time!”

      WSDOT reports travel time REDUCTIONS in the general purpose lanes – see the original post and its links. If you know of actual data that say otherwise, please provide a link. And anecdotal reports are not data, nor is general skepticism. As it is, the data say that drivers who DON’T pay tolls are still better off than before.

      A few years ago I was at the airport, about to get into the security check line, and my companions were complaining about the 45 minute wait we were about to have. I noted the time then, and then again when we were through – 11 minutes. Everyone complains about airports, and about traffic. Perhaps WSDOT could be more skillful in PR matters, but the real issue is that drivers in this area have been trained by decades of historical practice to believe that driving is “free” – like breathing the air. Training them (us) to the contrary will take time and result in long and loud complaints. Which are not facts.

  13. I can’t help but wonder if the actual travel speed is the same or better in the general purpose lanes, but now that the HOT lanes are moving considerably faster it just FEELS slow in the GP lanes because you can see other people flying by just a few lanes over. I’d really like to know how they calculated the average speeds though, or better yet to get the raw data myself.

  14. Is there a danger in making too many of these toll lanes if they work too well? The supply of tolled lanes is so low of course the price will be high, but what if all lanes of 405 and I5 and the rest had gauranteed speeds of 45 mph or even higher? Instead of $10 it might be $1 or $2 to drive SOV to anywhere at any time of the day. Move further from your work, drive more often to a more distant shopping or recreational area. A few poorer people might be priced out and take the bus, others might hov2 and split the toll. More density and sprawl would cause prices to creep up, adding more tolled lanes would make them go down. (Though more BRT and rail would also make the prices go down). The highways might work really well, pay for themselves and for endless expansion and the emissions that would go with it.

    1. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. The revenue collected from the toll is not going to support building lots more lanes. WSDOT needed to invest a lot in I-405 before they could impose the tolls. I don’t expect the HOT lanes to be revenue positive.

      For another example, SR-520 tolls are collecting anywhere near what is being invested in the corridor.

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