This Wednesday, February 17, the Washington State Transportation Commission will discuss toll rate options for several tolled highways in the Puget Sound. Among the changes that will be discussed are the recent calls from legislators to end tolling on I-405 on evenings, weekends, and holidays.
If you are in Olympia on Wednesday, you will have an opportunity to comment in person. Discussion of I-405 operations is scheduled for 3PM, with a public comment period at 4.45PM. As usual, the anti-tolling campaign is expected to show. Because they show up, they will appear to ‘represent’ the public unless countered.
Express toll lanes on I-405 have been an undoubted boon for transit users with faster and more reliable travel times. Notwithstanding the concerted campaign against the lanes, the ETL also helped general purpose traffic to move more quickly and more efficiently through the corridor. Sound Transit’s plans for I-405 BRT can not deliver promised results unless speed and reliability are maintained in the HOT lanes at all times that transit is operating.
Bending to political pressure, some legislators have asked to eliminate tolls after 7pm, on weekends and on holidays. Governor Inslee joined in this request at a press conference this afternoon. WSTC is responsible for approving such changes. Their first opportunity to consider the request is at Wednesday’s meeting. Whether or not WSTC accedes to this request, it is unlikely to be the last occasion anti-tolling advocates flex their muscles to reduce the effectiveness of the ETL.
At a minimum, WSTC must carefully review the effect on transit reliability of changing lane operations. Governor Inslee today acknowledged the benefits of tolling to transit users on I-405. Opening the express lanes toll-free to SOVs at “off-peak” times risks having transit and HOV users stuck in traffic. There is traffic after 7pm too. The revenue reduction would also reduce WSDOT’s capacity to invest further in the HOT lanes.
We note the more ambitious agenda for the HOT lanes offered by Doug MacDonald in the Seattle Times. MacDonald suggests aggressively re-investing toll revenues, and diverting other highway funds as necessary, to complete building out the ETL lanes. That includes lanes between Bellevue and Renton, and the second lane north of SR 522. WSDOT and local officials should coordinate closely with transit agencies to maximize performance of the HOT lanes for transit and drivers alike. Finally, he argues that we should “treat citizens who use our transportation system with at least minimal respect. If people are willing to pay for the roads they need, for goodness sake, let them. Then use that toll money to improve traffic and make it easier for everyone to get where they want and need to go”. We couldn’t agree more.
If you’re unable to attend in person, you may comment in writing or by email. It won’t do as much for media coverage, but it’s helpful to let commissioners know that transit advocates and users of the HOT lanes (whether transit or auto) are willing to speak up for the benefits of the lanes.
The complete meeting agenda is here. The meeting is at the WSDOT HQ Building in the Commission Boardroom. The address is 310 Maple Park Ave SE, Olympia WA.