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.