405 ETL lanes mostly free-flowing while NB general purpose lanes congested along almost the entire corridor
405 ETL lanes mostly free-flowing at the beginning of the PM peak, while NB general purpose lanes remain congested along almost the entire corridor

Under political pressure from Republicans in the Legislature, WSDOT is paring back the express toll lanes on I-405. If approved by the WSTC, the lanes would be open to all drivers without tolls on evenings and weekends.

In the Senate, SB 6152 passed out of committee on Wednesday. The bill emphasizes that the imposition of tolls is authorized for a two-year period only. The bill would prohibit tolls between 7pm and 5am, on weekends, and on all federal and state holidays. The bill even micromanages lane access, requiring that WSDOT continue to expand the length of the access and exit points to the express toll lanes. Earlier language that would have converted one of the ETL lanes between Bellevue and Bothell to a general purpose lane was dropped.

In the House, companion bill HB 2312 has not gotten out of committee (the deadline is Tuesday). However, House Democrats wrote WSDOT Tuesday evening requesting several of the changes in the Senate Bill. The changes were agreed with WSDOT. WSDOT should “eliminate tolls during evening non-peak hours, weekends, and holidays, to the extent that such a change will improve commuters’ experience on I-405” (thereby giving WSDOT some flexibility in setting hours of operation). The letter also suggests a long list of operational changes. Most notably, WSDOT is to consider “re-instating” a general purpose lane on NB I-405 between SR 520 and NE 70th St, where an exit lane was converted to general purpose use to make room for the ETL. WSDOT is also to modify the highway north of SR 522 to allow shoulder-running (the implications for ST and CT buses that already run on the shoulder here are unclear). The timing of the changes depends on Federal Highway Administration approval, but WSDOT is to report to the Legislature within six months on the impacts.

I-405 tolling, less than five months after introduction, has become a partisan football.

Mark Harmsworth represents the sprawling 48th Legislative District, and has been a prominent opponent of tolling.
Mark Harmsworth represents the sprawling 44th Legislative District, and has been a vocal opponent of tolling.

Notwithstanding its unpopularity with some SOV drivers (at least those who don’t use the lanes), it has been rather successful in managing traffic. Travel times in both the express and general purpose lanes are better, saving drivers 14 minutes in the express lanes and 7 minutes southbound in the regular lanes. Bus riders have seen improved speed and reliability. Community Transit riders save six minutes at peak times, while Metro riders are saving eight minutes. After just a few months, ridership is up 4% on CT, and 6% on Metro routes in the corridor.

But there have been difficulties for some drivers in the general purpose lanes. Northbound GP-lane drivers in PM peak benefit less, as improved speeds south of SR 522 are offset by a difficult merge where five lanes converge to just three. (Ironically, the added HOT lane south of SR 522 gets drivers to the choke-point more quickly exacerbating pressures there). Drivers using the highway for short distances complain about infrequent access points to the HOT lanes. Elsewhere, highway configuration changes have moved congestion points around, creating a perception that traffic is bad in places where it previously wasn’t.

Payment snafus, delays in processing pass orders, and long hold times on customer service lines have left customers disgruntled. Much political capital was squandered through failures in implementation.

Demand has been high, far outrunning projections. 170,000 passes have been distributed, more than double the expected number for the first year. Tolls have hit the $10 maximum several times, generally on rainy days. But WSDOT points out that the majority of toll-payers are paying the minimum and only 8% are paying more than $4. High demand means that revenues have run ahead of projections, so it is less likely that the lost revenues from toll-free operations on nights and weekends would cause the project to miss its financial targets.

Transit service on the corridor is peak-oriented, and cannot use the HOT lanes north of SR 522 anyway because of flyer stops and right-side exits. Even Sound Transit’s I-405 BRT would not use the HOT lanes beyond Bothell in the low-capital configuration, though they would in the intensive-capital model. But it is obvious that transit riders’ interests are not getting much attention in Olympia.

Congestion on I-405, for both autos and transit, far predates tolling
Congestion on I-405, for both autos and transit, far predates tolling. Source: WSDOT 2015 Corridor Capacity Report

HOT lanes have become the whipping boy for a deeper set of problems that predate the ETL. Traffic volumes are increasing across the region, and nowhere more so than on I-405. Housing growth in the central Eastside has not kept up with the region’s booming job centers. South Snohomish County (and South King County) is increasingly where Eastside workers go to find affordable housing. The outcome is sprawling residential development far from employment centers. The middling density of land use means these places are poorly served by transit. The effect on I-405 traffic was clear long before the toll lanes opened, with delays on the corridor increasing 46% just between 2012 and 2014.

When I-405 tolling was introduced, it was anticipated lawmakers would give WSDOT two years before second-guessing the results. Even if the bills proceed no further, WSDOT is once again on notice that suburban legislators have cold feet about traffic management. Building more unmanaged general purpose lanes is politically easier than managing traffic on existing lanes.

The changes to tolling operations this week are not yet fatal. Tolling remains in place at the busiest time, and lawmakers have not attempted to restore HOV-2 at peak. But the anti-tolling lobby has organized effectively. Sound Transit’s I-405 BRT proposals assume WSDOT will maintain 45 mph speeds in the corridor, not only north of Bellevue, but in the soon-to-be-built lanes south of Bellevue. Buses on I-5 are subject to increasing delays in the overloaded HOV-2 lanes. The plans of the transit agencies, and needs of their riders, are not figuring prominently in this debate.

114 Replies to “A Retreat from Tolling on I-405”

  1. As to;

    Bus riders have seen improved speed and reliability. Community Transit riders save six minutes at peak times, while Metro riders are saving eight minutes. After just a few months, ridership is up 4% on CT, and 6% on Metro routes in the corridor.

    At this point, I’d rather see rush hour transit-only lanes. Transit users already would be paying a toll except it’s called a fare to use those lanes. Why not?

    More transit, more places, more often.

    1. Boy, Joe, you’re making me proud I lived in the Skagit Valley years ago! Know that Valley had rail when the dams were being built- with some neat ways to transport gondola cars vertically, while turned sideways parallel to the cliff.

      Which, if any of the machinery is left, could be just what we need at several points to get transit vehicles across I-5. Though I remember that in earth-moving, cut and fill should balance.

      Wonder where they dumped the fill, because normally authorities wouldn’t allow a cut like that left on public lands unfilled all these years with so little public purpose.

      Problem is, along Highway 20 over the Pass, like on SR 2, reviving railroad would doubtless be better and cheaper than wider pavement, operated all hours.

      But down here below your county line, along I-5 and 405, hours designated as “Rush” are approaching 24. So better to make part of freeway become sort of a railway, meaning no cars 24-7-365-Good-To-Go.

      Which I know JBLM would approve better than present same digits followed by Bad-to-Crawl.


    2. Ha, transit riders pay less than 30 percent of their trip cost. That’s a gift, not a toll.

      1. Drivers pay less than 30% of the cost of constructing their new highway lanes (I-405).

        A gift from the rest of us already overtaxed on gas?

    3. Who’s going to pay for “more transit, more places, more often”? The azzolés in your party won’t let the urban cities themselves enough to increase service, and even when there is available authority the selfish “base” in the suburbs votes against it.

      Not to mention that they hate differently-abled people. And kids (except the home-schooled robots who parrot that God created the Earth in “4004 BC”). And useless old folks (except those who think Medicare is not a Federal program).

      A pox on them.

      1. Anandakos, I think you think the worst of too many Republicans. Not every Republican is a hater; just as not every Democrat is Jessyn Farrell, Jay Inslee or Billary lacking integrity.

        Give us a chance, will you?

      2. As far as I”m concerned the Republicans in this State just blew their chance. Did party Leadership really think there won’t be repercussions? Guess what, both Senators in D.C. are Democrats. No Federal dollars for you Mr Baumgartner. Democrats hold the House and have a lock on the Governorship. Maybe they are hoping for a big change this fall; I think they’ll get it but they won’t be happy with the result.

      3. Bernie,

        I doubt seriously our federal Congressional delegation is going to risk reelection on the altar of a WSDOT Transportation Secretary. Get back the money we put into the national coffers and all of that.

      4. I doubt seriously our federal Congressional delegation is going to risk reelection

        They have no “risk”. Ain’t going to be a Republican Senator from this State anytime in the forseeable future. And this latest shenanigan makes that all the more certain. Washington will still get it’s share of Federal dollars; they just won’t be going to anything in districts held by State Senate Republicans. Dern, I didn’t know it was loaded when I pointed the gun at my foot and pulled the trigger; chalk up another one for dumb rights!

  2. Yet more reason for curtain tolling in Seattle. Let I-405 go completely general traffic; get rid of preference lanes entirely so that everyone headed for downtown Bellevue is stuck in a fustercluck of SOV fanatics. Make working in downtown Bellevue just as frustrating for them as trying to work in Seattle.

    Then make them pay for the privilege of working in Seattle without running the risk of driving away businesses. What’s not to like?

    1. I should have said “more frustrating than trying to work in Seattle with its abundant and preferenced transit options”.

    2. “Make working in downtown Bellevue just as frustrating for them as trying to work in Seattle.”

      Those who live near East Link won’t have any difficulty working in downtown Bellevue.

      “Then make them pay for the privilege of working in Seattle without running the risk of driving away businesses.”

      You think companies will really relocate to downtown Seattle if the Eastside becomes all GP SOVs all the time?

      There are some corridors that are already all-GP with slow buses, such as reverse-commuting from Seattle to the Eastside on I-90, or reverse-commuting from downtown to the U-District or downtown to Northgate. So the effect of converting all lanes to GP wouldn’t be really dramatic;’ it would just be like that.

      1. Sure, you’re right. I would just like some karmic justice to be levied on the ‘burbanites for their narcissistic selfishness before I die off and miss the chaos which will ensue. Of course I know that nothing can really be done to speed up the process.

    3. Wouldn’t work, Anandakos. Because in Bellevue, shopping mentality is word “pricey”, instead of “expensive.” “Pricey” means: “You and I both know the price is ridiculous, but fact that I can afford to buy ridiculously-expensive things that you can’t means you belong living in Seattle!

      Which means in turn that since I can afford things however overpriced, I can pay mucho dinero just to come across the bridge and laugh at you! And best of all, ride those cute little blue and white trains that are even better than the quaint ones in the Third World. But, friend to friend…can’t you at least have some llamas grazing along the track?”

      So: our only hope is to lower prices on everything ’til the inevitable deathly smell of the “reasonable” price tag is so repulsive they’ll sink the floating bridges with All Hands while they escape. While we defiantly accept refugees called “their runaway kids” and honestly approve all their proof of persecutions claims, because we can actually see Bellevue.


  3. As a former commuter from Renton to Bellevue, and later, from Auburn to Bellevue, I can attest that something must be done. The HOV lanes in their former condition did not function effectively, and neither did the GP lanes. Under no scenarios did I-405 ever operate well. In a bus, in car as a single-occupant, and in a 2-person carpool, I was ALWAYS stuck in some really ridiculous traffic. It also did not matter which exit or bus route I took. All were bad. So, this HOT lane idea, it needs to be tested. Will it work? I have no idea, but going back to status quo should not be an option.

    As an added tidbit of info, it was occasionally faster for me to travel Auburn to Bellevue via SR18 to North Bend, I-90, Bellevue Way. Yes, 405 is really THAT terrible. This was suggested to me by a friend and proved to be a time-saver from time-to-time. Really thankful that I’m no longer doing that insane commute to work every day.

    1. I agree with giving them time to work, but the first priority is to keep the buses moving at 45mph. If the tolls are being clipped at $10 more than three times a year and so many people are paying $10 it slows the buses down, that’s a problem.

      But let’s remember that most transit fans didn’t want toll lanes in the first place, we wanted a transit + HOV-3+ lane. Also, I don’t think we need more than one HOT lane. The buses only need one. The second one is a car management issue that doesn’t have much to do with transit, so I don’t care as much whether it stays or goes.

      1. Mike, I’m not even for a HOV+3 lane – I want a straight transit lane. Make buses on the interstate Bus Rapid Transit… or very close to that.

        [rant] If we had bus-only lanes from Everett to Seattle, we would probably not have many a comment thread on STB about “spine destiny” of light rail because we’d already have a BRT northern spine. A BRT spine that could have a spur or even truss that specifically had a Mukilteo to Future of Flight to Boeing Plant to I-5 link… [/rant]

        Come on state legislators, the answer is right in front of you. Right in front of you.

      2. HOV-3 is just as unenforceable as HOV-2 and will be even more widely abused. The cops don’t care! They’re on the “drivers’ team”.

    2. Joe and Mike, excellent alternative solutions to the 405 problem. Again, anything but what was there before.

      1. it does seem though that the WSDOT Director got fired between this and Bertha.

        WTF? I’ve never been so ashamed to be a Washington Republican. And I may not cast my alegence that way any more. I was not a big fan of her when initially appointed because she lacked the engineering creds our former directors held. The bridge collapse on I-5 opened my eyes to the fact that a director doesn’t, perhaps shouldn’t, be an engineer but a person that knows how to get the right people “on the job” and clear the path for them to do that job ! Same song differt verse with the Oso landside.
        Lynn Peterson has nothing to do with the Bertha fiasco. That’s all on Democrates Gregiore, Nickles and Chopp.

      2. So what happens next? The governor appoints the CEO for WSDOT,. So, what if his next choice is Lynn Peterson? And what happens to the interim director until a confirmation is made? The Republicans have totally over played their hand here. Unfortunately there is no shortage of Democratic dolts like our woefully lacking replacement for Ross Hunter, Patty Kuderer. Her latest email based on her “totally unbias Survey Money””

        Just going from 70th exit to Totem Lake can take an hour in the evening. The backup between 520 and Totem Lake is horrendous.

        Since it’s rarely an hour to get from Bellevue to Everett I have to wonder if the constituent that submitted this comment has put gas in their car or is just pushing it along the shoulder. But this is the Democratic alternative I have to vote for??? Gawd save us all.

      3. Senate voted 25-21
        So who are the three spineless Democrats that didn’t vote? If you’re no different on this issue then why should I vote for you? In fact, even if your the same why would I vote for you when you when you’re too ashamed to show up on the job? I’d rather vote for someone that’s wrong than someone that’s AWOL.At least they’re punching the clock.

  4. This is all so amusing.

    We knew back in 2000 that traffic was going to be this bad.

    The problem was and still is:

    Politicians didn’t have the balls/ovum to tell the general public how much it was going to cost to keep up with SOV demand. (which meant ~~~ Raising Taxes ~~~)
    Mainstream Media was complicit in keeping the public ignorant of the ~$10 Billion price tag.

    All the meetings during the I-405 Corridor Program were open to the public.
    Never saw a reporter at our meetings. However I did get interviewed by the King County/Eastside Journal (or whatever it was back then). Even got mis-quoted. (Was/is… What’s the difference?)

    By the way, the public is more on-board with a rail line than you might think. Easy to find out, their survey is in the FEIS.

  5. Building more unmanaged general purpose lanes is politically easier than managing traffic on existing lanes.

    Except, then nobody wants to come up with the money to pay for those additional general purpose lanes.

    So then we’re right back into needing to have toll roads.

      1. You have to pay for transit before you can “tell people to use” it, and nobody wants to do that. Voters are fine with spending billions on construction projects to haul suburbanites around, because that puts white ‘Murkan men to work building them. But pay for black folks or Latinos to drive buses? That’s Socialism!!!

        This is just one more way for the dwindling cohorts of old while people to abuse their historic privileges and say “fuck you” to the younger and tawnier America of 2050.

  6. I don’t think that ending the tolls overnight will have much effect since presumably the traffic volume and tolls would be low then anyway. Doing so is a sop to SOV drivers so they think they have received a concession. The evening and weekend exemptions strike me as being more problematic since they don’t allow the HOT lane to react to actual traffic situations on these days.

    I do think it’s unfortunate that the politicians are tweaking things at this level. One of the reasons why our regulations are so byzantine is because of these laws that are arbitrarily imposed rather than allowing individual agencies to issues rules and regulations per the normal process. Agencies hit up against these littles nits all the time. I imagine, for example, years from now we’ll be asking why we can’t charge tolls between 7 and 8 p.m. or on Presidents Day despite high traffic and the reason will be it requires an act to change the law and no congress people care enough to take up the issue.

    1. Right. I don’t understand why drivers care about the HOT/HOV lanes at night, since there’s rarely enough traffic to fill the other lanes. It seems like just an ideological issue, or a way to get their foot in the door at whittling away the HOV/HOT lanes completely. Weekends and minor holidays are a concern of mine because that will slow down the buses.

      As for politicians tweaking things, that sounds like what the King County Council does to Metro.

    2. Part of the reason for wanting night access might be all the construction work that was going on after they opened the lanes. WSDOT had a habit of closing down all but one or two of the GP lanes and either not opening up the HOT lanes or not making it clear that they were open. So traffic would back up at 10 PM. Personally, while I’m a big fan of the HOT lanes, the implementation was carried in a less than ideal way.

      If they stop charging tolls at 7 PM that is a bit worrisome. Traffic past 7 is not uncommon, particularly if there’s any kind of accident, and I’d prefer they didn’t open them until 8 or 9. As for weekends, volume has become more of a problem but it rarely slows down past 50 mph or so. I don’t think opening them up is going to be a big issue for buses, but that may change in a few years.

      1. Even if traffic past 7 is not uncommon, the current level transit service drops off a cliff around 6:30 PM. Until we have more transit on nights and weekends, the notion that if you don’t like sitting in traffic, you can just ride a bus isn’t really true.

      2. asdf is absolutely right about this. You have to provide transit in order for people to ride it.

  7. Well there certainly isn’t any doubt that WSDOT F’d up the implementation of HOT lanes on I-405. You’d think that since this is their 4th tolling venture they would do a better job, but I guess that is too much to ask….

    But there are multiple ways to skin the cat, and one way to start addressing the issue would have been to put tolls on the I-90 floating bridge instead (all lanes except maybe carpools). Doing this would have reduced congestion on not only I-90 but also on both I-5 and I-405 between the bridges. There are simply too many people adding VM’s to the road system by attempting to avoid the tolls on SR520.

    All these extra VM’s are the root cause of at least part of the congestion problem. But Mercer Island is vocal and they seem to get listened to (and it doesn’t help that Judy Clibborn is from MI). Putting blanket tolls on I-90 would reduce the VM’s across the system and at least start to address the problem.

    And if that wasn’t enough, then WSDOT could also go to a variable passenger count for access to traditional type HOV lanes. Such a system would switch between 2 and 3 person access limits while maintaining both the Federal speed mandate and the incentive to carpool. And it would be a lot simpler to implement than WSDOT’s cumbersome tolling system.

    But noooooo……. We get this system instead that barely works and removes the incentive to carpool for those with a few extra bucks in their pockets. It’s the worst of all worlds.

    But hey, maybe if ran WSDOT from a directly elected board they would be more “transparent” and “accountable.” It’s interesting that the people who want that for ST apparently don’t want it for WSDOT.

    1. lazarus;

      I want WSDOT elected. But also county-level transit boards… which it seems only I want.

      Also there is a way to create a toll-only HOV lane during rush hour… make the lane TRANSIT-ONLY!

      1. I would not be against some amount of county level controll, but only if county tax dollars stay within and are spent within the county in which they are generated.

      2. Because hiring based on merit by a board of professionals doesn’t get better results than what bunch of selfish, ignoramuses who wouldn’t know the first thing about transportation would elect? Just remember that the single person driving next to you in their Excursion cancels out your vote.

    2. Umm all of your gripes are with the transportation commission and legislatures that made those decisions not WSDOT.

      1. @eastender,

        Actually no. The bulk of blame does belong with WSDOT. They are responsible for design and implementation, and both the design and the implementation of the I-405 HOT lanes are atrocious. And saying that their customer service was merely atrocious would be a compliment. If WSDOT had had a good design and an implementation plan to match then maybe we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but that is not the reality. WSDOT simply screwed up from one end to the other on this project.

        That isn’t to say that political pressure isn’t a factor in some of WSDOT’s failings, but as the supposed technical experts in the field there should be at least a minimal effort by WSDOT to put forward good technical data to assist in decision making by our elected officials. But WSDOT doesn’t seem willing to do this.

        Case in point? Tolls on the I-90 floating bridge. Someone at WSDOT surely knows that at least part of the “explosion” in congestion between the bridges on I-405 and I-5 is due to the extra VM’s being generated by toll evasion. It ain’t no mystery. The real mystery is why nobody is willing to admit it.

      2. Lazarus,

        On I-405 your issue appears to be with a private vendor who handles transactions for WSDOT on some transaction issues. Please find an example of a single toll facility or any firm/agency (public or private) that hasn’t had issues with the handling of payments, especially during the start-up of a new system. As far as I’m concerned WSDOT addressed the issue and refunded money to the customers and the private vendor ate the costs. A+

        On I-405 “success” the lane is suffering from over-use. As in more people are buying into it than they had anticipated. A normal free market move would be to keep increasing the toll rate to ensure performance, but the legislature capped the rate at $10. Not the fault of WSDOT.

        And WSDOT has no control on tolling of I-90 that is a pure legislative action headed by Judy Clibborn. I think you would struggle to find someone at any level of WSDOT who was against tolling on I-90.

      3. @east endear,

        If you would struggle to find anyone “at any level of WSDOT who was against tolling on I-90″, then why exactly is it that nobody at any level of WSDOT is actually speaking up and saying that? Why exactly is it that WSDOT is supposedly voiceless (following your line of thought) in a conversation that they should be driving with facts and data? You can’t just say,”I knew the order was wrong, but I didn’t speak up and just followed it anyway.” There is a long history in law that says such a defense is worse than ignorance.

        As far as blaming the vendor for all the problems, maybe WSDOT should have selected a more qualified vendor? Or written a tighter contract with tighter penalty clauses?

        Blaming someone else for WSDOT’s problems is convenient for WSDOT, but it doesn’t solve any problems for the citizens actually paying for these screw ups.

      4. Well duh, you don’t stand up and criticize your elected leaders when you work for government.

      5. The bulk of blame does belong with WSDOT. They are responsible for design and implementation, and both the design and the implementation of the I-405 HOT lanes are atrocious.

        So WSDOT is responsible for shorter travel times in the GP lanes and vastly superior travel times for transit and those willing to pay the cost of driving at peak. Could the implementation have been better, of course it could. And that’s why there was a 2 year period baked into the legislation. But dolts that already were convinced this would be worse than the status quo already had their pitch forks sharpened.

      6. The Legislature shut down the work being done to toll I-90, with an assist by our former WSDOT Secretary.

    3. Mercer Island’s problem is simple to solve. Put the eastbound toll at the Seattle shore and the westbound toll at the Enatai shore. Then Islanders will be charged only half-price on every round trip, which is fair because they’re only using half the bridge.

    4. But there are multiple ways to skin the cat, and one way to start addressing the issue would have been to put tolls on the I-90 floating bridge instead

      No, federal law prevents that… care to play again?

      1. Nope, not completely. It is possible to toll the floating bridge, if the will is there. The process was underway and shut down by politics.

      2. Care to elaborate? What chance in hell was there ever a way to toll I-90? Maybe if you didn’t take the center lanes for East Link there may have been a way?

      3. WSDOT and FHWA were working on the NEPA document to toll I-90 about two years ago, but the Legislature bent under pressure from Mercer Island and others and WSDOT abandoned it.

        I don’t remember exactly how it would have been done, but FHWA does not waste time reviewing projects that it would never approve.

      4. Actually, Bernie, Washington could have tolled I-90 had they done so when the original bridge was replaced. It’s fine to toll an “Interstate Facility” which is being replaced because it has exceeded its physical or economic life or to add capacity, both of which were true of I-90.

        However, the State chose to take the politically easier path of accepting Federal funding for the replacement bridge, so that door is now closed.

      5. I do now remember the talk of tolling both I-90 and 520. While it is possible it’s not a likely reality given both the hostile politics in this State and the difficulty of getting it pushed through “the other Washington.” If any roadway should be tolled it would be the I-5 “express” lanes that are typically a longer slog than the mainline.

      6. Paul,

        Yes, there is a “Value Pricing Pilot Program” which the FHWA defines as follows:

        The VPPP is an experimental program that is designed to assess the potential of different value pricing approaches for reducing congestion. Under this program, tolls may be imposed on existing toll-free highways, bridges, and tunnels, so long as variable pricing is used to manage demand. Congress has authorized slots for up to 15 value pricing programs, which are allocated to state or local agencies. Seven of these slots have been permanently allocated to States that have executed agreements for tolling projects under the program. The remaining eight slots have been temporarily reserved for State agencies that are pursuing other eligible activities under the program, including value pricing studies and non-toll value pricing projects; these slots may become available in the future as those activities are completed. Once an agency holds a slot, there is no limit on the number of value pricing projects that can be implemented under that slot.

        Washington does hold one of the agreements. I-90 can be tolled, but Mercer Island consistently torpedoes the proposals.

  8. “The bill even micromanages lane access, requiring that WSDOT continue to expand the length of the access and exit points to the express toll lanes. ”

    Love to see legislatures opining on something they know absolutely nothing about. Why listen to the traffic safety engineers at WSDOT with decades of experience and professional degrees when you can become a self-proclaimed expert on roads just by listening to your constituents!

    It should be no surprise that we have 40,000+ road fatalities each year in the U.S., maybe we should marvel in the fact that it isn’t higher.

    1. Because maybe the engineers at WSDOT are: a) too scared to actually speak up about what really needs to be done, or b) being silenced by a politicized management structure that is hypersensitive to the state legislature, or c) maybe really as good at their job as you think.

      I mean, the decision to put the Hwy 99 on and off ramps in the center of 99 (LH) instead of on the outside (RH) is simply boneheaded. But I doubt there was any pressure from Oly to do that – so is it just bad engineering on the part of WSDOT? Hard to believe.

      I’m getting to the point where I think we need an independent commission to look into WSDOT and how they can do better. Because surely this is not the best we can do as a state.

    2. The bill even micromanages lane access, requiring that WSDOT continue to expand the length of the access and exit points to the express toll lanes.

      Which was one of the changes WSDOT had announced just prior to the witch hunt.

  9. Glenn, I think some experience from Portland these last few decades’ transportation-building can really help here. What’s same-travel-time route construction comparison between bus and rail?

    Because I think somebody above has really nailed step one for solution: HOT lanes will be a lot warmer when converted to no-exception transit only. I’ll goes-without-saying add: barrier-separated and ramped.

    After that, all other lanes general purpose, expanded laterally until homeowners across fence start shooting out bulldozer radiators. Founding Fathers assumed 2nd Amendment covered this. Age of Reason, you know.

    And that double-track rail alongside the highway will be faster, cheaper, and less disruptive than extra freeway lanes? Anyhow, on this one, I’m both glad that it wasn’t transit that screwed up so badly and visibly, and infuriated that if we had, the media would be pulling rail-spikes out with their teeth.

    If the media had any left.


  10. I really wish the Dems in the Legislature would tie any concessions on this to fixes for the crappy transportation bill we got last year. I’d consider trading some concessions on the HOT lanes to switch payment for ST3 sales taxes back to the highway fund or to drop the poison pill on carbon emissions.

  11. My experience is based on a weekly evening rush trip from Bellevue to Woodinville (522). Before the HOT lanes we crawled along in traffic in the HOV lanes and often switched to the regular lanes as it seemed like the HOV lanes were slower. The travel time was somewhere between 35 minutes and an hour and a half. Now, we mostly pay 75 cents for a guaranteed travel time with little or no backup (save for the merge on to 522). Everybody has a different trade off to make between time and money, but that stretch has become much more predictable. This seems a little like a well organized minority interest group has successfully won the day. I have searched for a “pro” tolls group and haven’t one. Would love to sign that petition!

  12. @ Dan – thanks for the informative report. And kudos to Judy Clibborn for keeping this to a minor (so far) retreat.

    General comment: The possible outcomes here are (1) Tolls are established as a legitimate way to manage traffic and pay for infrastructure, and (2) the region retreats from highway tolling, and drivers continue with the assumption that driving is free, like the air. Rants about the eastside dimwits and fantasies about converting HOT lanes to transit-only will only feed the “war on cars” narrative. Might be fun to post, but not a good way to persuade voters – or middle-of-the-road legislators.

      1. Joe, my point was that making the HOT lanes transit-only is a political non-starter. A different question from whether it’s good policy, of course.

        I’d also argue on the merits that it’s un-necessarily restrictive and inefficient policy. With the current infrastructure, managing tolls so that there’s little congestion but allowing some car traffic would be just as effective FOR TRANSIT as excluding cars altogether. If that’s the case, then insisting on excluding cars seems like – well – war on….

        To the extent that there are quantifiable, solid benefits to exclusive transit roadway – a real end-to-end BRT system, for example – there’s at least an argument. But the current HOT lanes are far from that.

    1. “drivers continue with the assumption that driving is free, like the air”

      Drivers would say they already paid for the lanes through their taxes.

      1. Forgive me for imprecision – the assumption is that driving is free once you;ve filled your gas tank. Use of particularly expensive and in-demand roadway is NOT priced differently from less expensive and less popular roadway. In the rest of life, we pay extra (and expect to pay extra) for things like superbowl tickets (even if the stadium is already “paid for”). When we’re driving, we just all pile onto the freeway and wait.
        And on the east coast, drivers pay for many such expensive / scarce roadways – or adjust accordingly.

      2. And that is the key, Mike.

        Fleshing out the calculations for them to show that drivers don’t pay nearly enough to ‘pay for more lanes’ on 405 so they can have an unfettered commute.

      3. Not only paid for, Mike, but now own. Meaning, like any other property,up keep over the years. And, as when any property starts needing changes to improve value, invest in whatever yields best return.

        Suppose we think our property not just as concrete slabs to carry automobiles, but as a graded and curved right-of-way for uses including, for instance, high -speed electric trains? Some of our freeways doubtless include cleared linear space that used to be paved with side-to-side logs.

        Really called “corduroy”, though hard to use for a jacket. But bet hardly any of their owners insisted their property could use only original road surface and vehicles. Mules probably didn’t miss them either.


      4. This was well planed and there are many papers on Google that explain the money.

        250 million in tolls to pay the improvement.
        Voter vetoed. 2 billion dollar gas tax 2002 for 405

        11 billion dollar plan
        15 years and 5 billion dollars spent

        It’s all right they refuse to see it.

  13. Okay we should be more organized or have some sort of say. Is there a progressive transit riders Union here? How do we become that squeaky wheel that can influence our legislators just like this anti tolling campaign did. I’m tired of just complaining on a blog… We need consistent 3+ HOV lanes on all freeways – I5, 405, 520 etc. tolling also needs to stay.

    1. Consistent 3+ HOV is something whose time has come. I’d get on board that one. Controlling the access with a 6 inch curb or some really big turtles between a set of white lines could also help.

      1. One motorcycle hits the curb or turtles and the State will lose its rear in court. It’s one of the reasons why pylons are not being considered.

    2. JK, it’s going to take a bunch of us to put aside partisan differences and form a PAC to hire a lobbyist (one word for “professional testifier to state legislators”) to make a tinker’s bell of damn beyond STB efforts. Sorry but that’s politics.

      1. @Joe,

        It is politics. But it would serve the R’s right if the next head of WSDOT was someone from the upper echelons of ST. That would be a freak out for sure.

      2. Sorry, it’s NOT just politics. Failing to confirm an executive appointment over a policy difference is food-fight politics, an act of bad faith that transcends specific policy. I’d prefer not to be partisan, but Mr. Hill and his colleagues are making that impossible.

        @mdnative – thanks for the link.

      3. Sure as shit stinks, It Is POLITICS.

        And not just R vs. D statewide , but all the local parochial shenanigans that go on.

        Lynn Petereson is the scapegoat.

        The engineers and staff at WSDOT just do the analysis they’re directed to, and present the results to the ones with the purse strings/legal power.

      4. The R’s calling her a racist at the end of their press conference was a bit of a low blow (to say the least).

      5. Joe,
        Sorry to burst your bubble, but I don’t think Inslee has much to worry about. Much better GOP candidates have run for Governor in the past but the last Republican to sit in the chair was Spellman. Just like why I doubt we will see a GOP controlled state house. I do wish the Democrats would put a little more effort into taking the state senate back though.

      6. Well Chris, I think the Rs have a good, neutral and nonoffensive candidate this time who can survive the Seattle Media Party.

        But I hear ya. That said, I’m happy the Senate Rs are going to mandate change in WSDOT.

        I now hope we see a WSDOT Head that is aggressive and tenacious. There are many females who are both, including a transit planner I considered a friend and now moving on who could do the job. This isn’t about sexism, it’s about holding WSDOT accountable for NOT ending Bertha, trying to keep the CRC going and the 405 tolls debacle. At least two of the three I think 90% of commentators here wanted to stop and this WSDOT Transportation Secretary I-think-I-know-it-all defied bipartisan desires of legislators and transit advocates.

        For G*D’s Sake Jay, if you want this blog’s support… poach somebody from Sound Transit. Even if it’s just for kicks and to expose some people.

      7. You’re kidding yourself i you think that the replacement the Republicans are looking for is somebody who is more pro-transit than Petersen. Petersen was pushed out because she was willing to impose tolls on the Eastside. The Republicans will want nothing less than a 100% “free” road advocate as a replacement.

      8. “Hill said it was “nothing personal” but the senate needed to use its “blunt instrument” (its confirmation powers) to “impose accountability” on an agency that was responsible for imposing high tolls on I-405.”

        She was fired because she dared to impose tolls on drivers, and we can’t have that.

        There legislators doth protest too much. Did they really not know until today that WSDOT was going to put tolls on 405?

        “Several Republicans, calling the move strictly “business,” hit the same themes: Senator Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver) read from the state constitution, outlining the senate’s role for “holding the governor accountable.””

        What does firing the WSDOT director have to do with the governor? “I don’t like you,,so I’m going to kick this other person.”

        “Saying WSDOT ignored the legislature’s rejection of the the Columbia River Crossing by continuing to spend money on planning work.”

        They worked on the CRC with that Stalinist light rail when we told them not to.

        Sounds like a witch hunt.

      9. “There legislators doth protest too much.”

        I guess it would be more accurate to say: The legislators are shocked, shocked that there are tolls on 405. As in, didn’t they vote for it?

      10. @Joe,

        “To get me to LEAVE the Rs, I want to see them savage such an appointee and advocate for “free parking”, “free roads” and more.”

        Really, because then maybe you should leave the R’s now:

        “King says his view shifted last fall when WSDOT staffers sounded blasé about complaints during the I-405 toll startup………,” he said in a phone interview while driving home via White Pass.

        “He also said Peterson is making it too cheap for Sound Transit to acquire right of way along state roads.

        “She’s very partial to transit, very partial to bike and pedestrian paths, all those things,” King said. “We need to protect the citizens that want to travel on our roads. That’s why we’re there. We need to protect the ability of people to use our roads, use their cars. From the get-go, she was about moving people on transit, moving people on light rail.”

        And mind you ,these are not the rankings of that nut job Benton on his way out the door. These are the opinions of one of the R’s most esteemed leaders.

        So if you really think the firing of Peterson will get you a more pro-transit, then either you just aren’t paying attention, or you are lying to yourself.

      11. @Joe,

        The majority of R’s are right out of the 50’s. This move was pure politics, but the effect is to move the ball away from transit and towards rural roads.

        Congrats, this is what comes with having R’s in control.

      12. At least we moderates got three things:

        a) ST3
        b) Community Transit Prop 1. Already passed, more service hours inbound.
        b) Island Transit County Connector funding until 1 July 2017

        Not too shabby in my opinion. Damn good. I don’t think all Rs are all anti-transit, just some old guys.

  14. One major advantage of completely isolated lanes is that not only will speed never fall anywhere near 45 mph, but can be as high as max design speed for the road itself. So really would like to see “stats” on cost of building one segment of the all-bus transitway I’ve been advocating- including pavement, barriers- and ramps.

    Maybe exact same place as present I 405 HOT lanes. Especially curious about cost of this REALLY bus transit mode vs. electric rail. Good test of my suspicion that, between Olympia and Tacoma might be both faster and less expensive to dig and track railroad than even best painted stripe.


  15. Proving once again – it’s not about the commute time, or the rate of speed, or average travel times point to point, or charging based on usage, or the fairness of the budget, or any of the rest of it. It’s about how the roads make people in cars FEEL.

    And the tolled lanes FEEL bad. So we’re getting rid of them.

    They’ll try to cite facts that support the idea that its for traffic flow reasons or fairness or something else. But it’s pure lizard brain all the way. Which is why it’s politically popular. 6 months after the retreat when 90% of commuters feel ZERO net benefit from the change in terms of how the road functions or who pays for it, we’ll all have stopped congratulating each other for the change and won’t even connect it to the near-zero-net-difference the retreat gave us.

    1. But Neel, how do drivers “feel” stuck for hours in traffic- where they can’t even get out of the car! Better question: what do these drivers need, or want done, to feel good about travel? What, in complete knowledge of all the facts, would they vote for? Including, what will they personally pay for it?

      What do any of these uncomfortable drivers think will happen if every lane was completely general traffic all the time, and every single bus off the freeway? Ridership-wise it would make complete budgetary sense to run them on surface streets.

      It’s very tempting for transit to do exactly that for a year or two, on the excellent and very conservative and provable grounds that it’s a waste of money sending buses where they will always get stuck for several hours.

      Would then like to be in the hall personally when anti-transit politicians fire their own choice of transit secretaries- and then start bellowing for buses to go back into general traffic the to get stuck.
      Result will make departing Secretary, who shared none of the ideology behind this whole idea, start celebrating next Christmas a year early that she’s in the visitors’ gallery instead of her last office.


  16. I do, incidentally, have an idea that could begin a change of thinking by putting in plain sight (of a jammed freeway) visible proof of a strong future possibility.

    Buy a narrow strip of land between two of the worst possible cul-de-sac developments, and build a few cafe’s restaurants, pubs, and some other amenities at the opening of each complex- in return for one mile or two of lanes of heaviest duty high-speed pavement in road-building.

    A couple of Rocket-Ride (ok, “brands” can be wrapped on and peeled off) buses can be interspersed with absolutely ordinary buses with fleet colors- who will make the run between the two gates as part of their regular schedule. Except going at least 70, right where uncomfortably stationary motorists across the fence can see them and compare.

    “Suburbs and Speed!” Yeah, call it something else, but a picture through a fogged car window is worth a thousand pro-transit words.

    Mark Dublin

  17. Both the I-405 toll lane fiasco as well as the Peterson firing demonstrate why it is unreliable to spend transit funding on building bus infrastructure. It becomes a political football and can be taken away at the whim of the politicians.

    I’m fairly sure that Sound Transit funding was used to build both the NE 6th St and NE 128th St dedicated ramps on 405. That’s the only useful piece of HOT infrastructure that’s on 405. And the legislature has just decided that it won’t be protected for transit on weekends or after 7pm.

    Make WS-DOT funds pay for any roadway improvements and leave transit funds for things that can’t be converted at the whim of the politicians.

  18. There are several issues that are causing anger around the 405 toll lanes, and WS-DOT has a good chunk of the blame.

    One issue, which they haven’t really admitted, is that they took away general purpose lane capacity and created some new chokepoints. One glaring examples is near the 520/405 interchange where a lot of merge and exit lanes disappeared. These don’t just affect SOV traffic but also HOV/HOT traffic trying to access the lanes. The HOT project was built on the cheap, it didn’t include a single HOT access ramp, it didn’t include a single transit facility, and it did remove some GP capacity.

    The second issue is that WS-DOT hasn’t been candid and forthright. Probably there are certain trips and times where travel times have improved. But there are others where it has certainly gotten worse. WS-DOT blithely suggesting everything is better isn’t consistent with many users’ experience. If WS-DOT were honest about what they’ve taken away and what’s gotten worse, they might have more credibility.

    Using the HOT lanes is actually pretty hard depending on where you are starting or ending – the issue is no ramps. If you are coming from 520 and going to 522 you have several painful sections that take away a chunk of any other travel time gains.

    So WS-DOT is not without fault by any means.

    But letting the legislature determine fixes is an even worse mess.

    1. “The HOT project was built on the cheap, it didn’t include a single HOT access ramp, it didn’t include a single transit facility, and it did remove some GP capacity.”

      You are aware that HOV(HOT) to HOV(HOT) only lanes at each of the major interchanges were planned a long time ago. (at 167,I-90,520) and were penciled out at around $1 Billion apiece.

      Without detailed plans, and going from past costs on other projects, I’d guess around $200 million would be the HOV(HOT) portion. They have to plan the complete interchange, so an HOV(HOT) project isn’t a separate project.

      Which brings up the next question;
      Where the hell would the money come from?

      Never mind, my gas tax was raised, (without my vote,) to cover a portion of the funding needed, so that 405 commuters won’t suffer.

      That’s what it’s all about, though.
      Don’t tell the public just how much I-405 highway improvements really cost in actual $$$.

      Why, they might pick a different alternative.

      1. Crazy thing is that the 520/405 interchange was largely rebuilt not very long ago, maybe 15 years ago? And now more money was spent all along 405 taking out a lot of trees. And capacity seems worse. The interchange was certainly underdesigned. And zero transit improvements. Heck the 520 rebuild was called a transit corridor and called for center lanes all the way to Redmond. That was scrapped, too. No connection to 405. No ability for buses continuing past 108th Ave to make a stop there, have a good interchange to 405, or have a clear path through in the westbound direction.

        WS-DOT does lack credibility in the foresight and quality of much they have designed on the Eastside. And at Montlake. Whether for transit or for SOVs. Seattle DOT does more for transit improvements than WS-DOT.

  19. I honestly believe the effects of eliminating tolls here on nights and weekends to be mostly symbolic. Traffic is seldomly backed up on nights and weekends to the point where these lanes are needed, and, even when it, in practice, the limited number of entrance and exit points will limit traffic on them in and of itself.

    There’s also the fact that Metro and Sound Transit places nearly all of their investment along the I-405 corridor in rush hour service, and after 7 PM and on weekends, the options for not sitting in your car are few and far between. On weeknights, the 535 runs every half hour in the northbound direction and once an hour in the southbound direction, that’s it. On weekends, the 535 provides hourly service on Saturdays, with no service at all on Sundays. (You can still go from Totem Lake to Bellevue on Sundays via the 235, but it takes nearly an hour and still operates just once per hour).

    When transit service is this skeletal, trying to manage the roadway capacity to put people on transit almost feels pointless.

  20. This is actually a Republican plot to bring the ERC (complete corridor), back into the mix, you realize.;-)

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