A ST 535 waits to re-enter I-405

In the race to pander to people that object to any genuine escape from congestion, Jay Inslee’s latest entry is more of the same old thinking ($):

He is advocating two projects:

• Adding a lane on I-405 at Highway 520 to Northeast 70th Place in Kirkland, where it would become an exit-only lane. Costs might range from $5 million to $30 million, based on noise reduction and fish-protection needs.

• Strengthening the right shoulder of northbound I-405 in Bothell for use as a general lane beginning at Highway 527 and ending as an exit-only lane onto Interstate 5 at Lynnwood. It would open to traffic only in peak times, and at speeds far below the usual 60 mph freeway limit, as announced previously by tolling director Patty Rubstello. Costs could range from $30 million to $50 million.

The bottleneck on I-405 used to be in Kirkland. The addition of new lanes did what highway expansions always do: it simply moved the bottleneck around, in this case to the 522 interchange. So now Gov. Inslee wants to double down on this with further quasi-widening. The outcome is predictable: the added volume will simply create bottlenecks elsewhere, either on I-5 or on the arterials that feed 405. Adding an exit lane in Kirkland will simply bring the congestion back to Kirkland. Drivers who use the old bottleneck will benefit, and drivers that use the new bottleneck will be worse off. There will be calls for more asphalt, and the cycle repeats.

Not to be outdone, presumptive Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant “bested” Inslee’s knee-jerk highway widening by proposing to force the buses back in congestion:

Opponents including GOP challenger Bill Bryant are seizing on toll snafus in an effort to weaken the incumbent. Bryant called for “freeing 405’s HOT lane” by converting one of the two special lanes each direction into a general traffic lane, then allowing two-person carpools into the only toll lane for free. That would likely unravel the toll program, as there wouldn’t be much room left for toll payers to join the bus-carpool lane.

After applying the Bryant plan, the I-405 project would ultimately simply add a general-purpose lane and leave buses and vanpools in status quo congestion. As always, we’re only an election away from squashing the region’s halting progress towards good BRT.

45 Replies to “I-405: More Lanes, and Worse”

  1. This is the disheartening thing with transportation in our society: extremely short-sighted politicians messing up a market-theory plan that they once supported and on most every measurable metric is succeeding.

    Additionally, it’d be nice if bus riders and transit agencies in the corridor started standing up and making a bunch of noise as well. Or WSDOT could borrow some CA/FL ideas by reinvesting the HOT money into seriously boosting transit service and make truly good transit a hostage.

    1. Mike B,

      As to, “it’d be nice if bus riders and transit agencies in the corridor started standing up and making a bunch of noise as well” oh I’d love to see a lot more positive toned pro-transit nonpartisan or bipartisan activism in this state. You betcha.

  2. This whole development has been disheartening. Leave it to us Americans to think that the only answer to traffic congestion is “build more space for more cars”. I’ve been trying to do my part by talking with car commuters and trying to convince them to take mass transit, but the answer is always the same: “buses don’t come close enough to my house,” “buses get stuck in the same traffic as cars, at least in my car I don’t have to deal with other people,” “buses don’t come often enough to be convenient.”

    I cry a little on the inside every time I hear these things.

    1. Unfortunately so much of the latter 2 comments is true. Which is why it is important to protect bus ROWs and build more grade 777284960seperated transit ROWs.

  3. Adding a lane at the 520 merge is not necessarily a bad thing. That lane was taken away to make room for the new ETL and traffic there has gotten substantially worse. That spot is a particular problem for transit as well, since any bus from 520 to 405 gets stuck.

    Further north is more problematic. Buses get much less benefit there (since there are no direct access ramps) and tolls have been very high. Ideally you add direct access ramps and an additional ETL, but that’s not cheap. Unfortunately, there’s probably no good solution. The areas has been getting built up (in a pretty sparse fashion). Transit along 405 is problematic since most users need to use P&R’s and local bus service won’t help most people.

    1. A significant cause of the problems on 405 is elimination of very necessary merge and exit lanes needed to support both efficient use of the GP lanes but also good transit services. My bus driver now makes a frequent executive decision to go south into Bellevue turn around us 4th and 6th and get directly in the HOT lanes rather than attempting this poorly designed and thought out merge.

      The lane to NE 70th was never a true “through” GP lane and has always been a merge lane and exit lane since as far back as the 80’s, just a pretty long one. You simply cannot combine two lanes of freeway traffic in less than half a mile which is basically what is happening here with E & W 520 merging in without giving people lots of room.

      And even SR522 is arguably significantly a merge situation too as 405 constricts down to fast in too short of a distance with two lanes being eliminated right before the interchange.

      1. That ,merge lane from 520 to 405 North goes back to the early 70’s when that section of freeway was expanded, although it used to end at the top of the hill before it was extended to 70th. It was very poor planning to take that away and use that space for a mid-freeway merge to the HOT lanes. Although I hate the temptation to be an armchair transportation planner by virtue of my driving experience, I can’t help but wonder how they thought that would not be a problem.

      2. I drive through the 520/405 interchange on a semi-regular basis and the merge from 520 to 405 north is bad, even on a weekday afternoon. Spending $30M to restore the merge lane, relieve that chokepoint AND lessen the political pressure on the HOT lanes seems like a wise investment.

    2. Interesting. I can see two reasons why people wouldn’t like the changes:

      1) The state over promised. If you read any of the articles, or the really good video (complete with wonderful graphics) about the HOT lanes, they made it clear that this was a win for everyone. This was not a case of just adding an HOV lane improvement (great bus buses and carpools, tough luck for the rest of you suckers). This was supposed to be smooth sailing for everyone. Of course transit riders and 3 (or more) carpool riders get there much faster, but even the poor slob in a regular car gets there a bit faster. Sounds wonderful. Except it didn’t happen. In part because …

      2) Things got worse. If you have actually made it worse for some people (and it sure sounds like you have) then you can expect people to get pissed. You better be prepared for a huge education effort if that is your plan. Tell everyone that it is for a greater good (sorry — you folks will be worse off, but the rest of you will benefit greatly). Simply getting everyone back to where they were before (or close) would be a huge improvement.

      After all, we could easily make things worse for some but better for many more without spending much money. We wouldn’t have to construct any lanes. We would simply change “HOV 2” to “HOV 3”. For the cost of paint we would improve the lives of thousands if not millions in the area. But we refuse to do that, for fear of pissing off a smaller number of people.

    3. I have heard that too, that the reconfiguration created new merge points at 520, 70th, and 116th where the entrance ramps used to come in on their own lane, and that that has slowed people down. So the first project seems targeted to this, although it doesn’t sound like just doing southbound 70th would be enough.

      1. I’m not sure 116th or 70th are as big problems. Those areas used to be congested, and still are (but maybe even less so). 520 and north of 522 are the big problems right now.

    4. David pretty much nailed it. I’m not sure this is as big an issue as some of the problems north of 522 but it’s a relatively easy fix. Of not is that from 520 to 70th is a major uphill grade and that lane was important as a truck (and bus) climbing lane. Take some of the millions generated in tolls and replace it. That’s pretty much the only quick fix that needs to be done between Bellevue and 522. Don’t get too hung up on this being an attempt to pave our way out of congestion. It’s not a GP lane and only replaces what was taken to add the second ETL lane.

      1. Absolutely; take money from the tolling and fix the bad spots so that the hair-on-fire caucus calms down. Then, after that’s done, take the money from the tolling to add the second lane, northbound first, a couple of interchanges at a time north of SR522.

  4. Another reason why the permanence of BRT can never, ever be trusted. It will always, in every incarnation, be one election away from turning into dingleberry soup.

    1. We cross posted. See comment below. Madison BRT (arguably the first true BRT in Washington State) will not run on the freeway. Neither would Roosevelt BRT. Even West Seattle BRT would run on a freeway owned by the city (not the state). Most real BRT is like that. Yes, it could be converted to general purpose traffic, so could the transit tunnel — but it sure isn’t “one election away”.

      1. Swift is the gold-standard of BRT in this region, because no one else has come along and made a better system. It’s probably going to end up as a good model for suburban BRT, with its BAT lanes and other “lighter” implementations of BRT features.

      2. Swift seems good.

        For $43 though, purchased far enough in advance and given a AAA discount, you can buy a Seattle to Eugene ticket on Amtrak.

        Next time a Huskies team plays against UO, see if you can convince a few officials visiting to cheer the road team to swing over to downtown Eugene on EmX.

        I’ve not yet been on Vancouver BC’s BRT. What’s it like?

      3. Swift is excellent. But part of the reason for its success is that highway 99 is wide in Snohomish County so there was plenty of room for BAT lanes, and it has a high speed limit so the bus can move faster. Neither of these conditions exist in most of King County’s potential BRT locations.

      4. Maybe not, but BRT will always have an inherent risk of dilution that grade separated rail systems will never experience. I’m pretty confident that in 50 years the efficacy of UW to downtown rail service will continue unimpeded in a way that Swift (and comparable US systems) cannot promise.

        BRT systems are conceptually great, and can offer uncontested geographic and economic efficiencies, but they have an unacceptably huge “but” – at least in our SOV centric political environment.

        We need a core system that is (generally) guaranteed to function reliably on rainy, pre-holiday Friday afternoons just as well as it does without induced stress.

    2. Um, well, first, I-405 service is NOT “BRT” and never will be, regardless what ST chooses to call it. It will be “Express Buses with Flyer Stops”. “BRT” has like actual passengers at 10:30 in the morning and 9:45 at night. “EBFS” not so much.

      1. …but what about the 535 which uses 405? ….or the 545, 550, and 512. Sorry, these freeway express routes are reasonable examples of BRT. I’ve been an actual passenger on these routes at 10:30 and 21:30.

      2. If you’ve ever stood in a queue of twenty people at Eastgate Freeway station waiting for everyone to get aboard and pay their fare, you’ll realize that freeway expresses are not BRT.

  5. >> As always, we’re only an election away from squashing the region’s halting progress towards good BRT.

    Most good BRT in the region has nothing to do with WSDOT freeways, but otherwise, I agree. It’s a good thing the state has no control over MLK Way, or they would let the train share space with cars. The stupidity (or even worse, demagoguery) when it comes to managing HOV lanes is amazing.

    That being said, the governor’s plans aren’t without merit. I really haven’t studied the issue, but it is quite possible that it would help traffic flow a lot better. I don’t think bottlenecks simply get pushed from one spot on the freeway to another. Assuming no induced demand (which I realize is a one hell of an assumption) there are places where a little money here or there could make everything run smoother. The biggest problem with WSDOT is not that they ignore induced demand, it is that they seem to have no interest in addressing the pinch points. A good example is 522. A huge amount of money is being spent right now (as we speak) to wide the road to two lanes northeast of Woodinville. Will this lead to induced demand, as Monroe (or Sultan or Skykomish) drivers learn that commuting to Seattle/Bellevue/Redmond is not as horrible as before? No, because it won’t help the situation at all. There are two big stop lights along the way. Two lanes converging to one isn’t the problem — it is the stop lights. But rather than address those first (and hope that that laws limiting sprawl) will alleviate the problem, they build two lanes because they figure in the long run we’ll need it.

    That maybe the plan here as well. Expand 405 all the way to Everett. Fine. But level with people and don’t suggest that adding this thing here, or that thing there will somehow make things great (until, of course, induced demand makes it bad again). Tell people that the long range plan is to spend billions on new freeways everywhere, so that we can be just like the driving paradise that is L. A.

  6. Honestly I-405 should have be at least 3-4 GP Lanes in either direction for its entire length and this should have been built in the 80’s. Going from 4 Lanes to two from Kirkland to Bothell and than from Bellevue to south of I-90 is probably the worst traffic engineering to ever have occurred in this region right up with the narrowing to two lanes of I-5 through downtown Seattle.

    The widening of those sections should have been done 30 years ago when the population there was exploding. It should be done now.

    Of course the major reconstruction is the entire Hwy 522-I405 interchange because if you drive through there now, the freeway’s north and south bridges are smack up against the supports for the 522 Flyover ramps. The whole thing would need to be reconstructed as there’s no room to add a 3rd or 4th GP Lane in either direction.

    Kill the gateway project and reallocate the funds to this. There’s always going to be congestion but it would alleviate a bit of it.

    1. You make a good point that the 522-405 interchange cannot be widened without re-doing the interchange. I think that basically means it will not be widened anytime in the future.

      As for the rest, we cannot pave our way out of traffic. I’d rather see that money spent on direct access ramps and P&R’s (because to be honest, there is no other good way for most people to get to the bus in that area). Get all the buses to operate in 45+ mph lanes and you’ll have a clear advantage for people to take the bus.

    2. Mon-ey makes the world go round
      The world go round
      The world go round
      Mon-ey makes the world go round
      It makes the world go round!”

      And where are you going to obtain this world spinner in the vast amounts that will be required for I-205 to reach four lanes from Lynnwood to Tukwila? That is, without tolling the entire roadway?

      1. Take the billion dollars or more allocated to building out 509, and completing Hwy 167 and allocate it to I-405.

  7. You know, if these toll lanes had been sold as part of BRT and Sound Transit schedule reliability… there would be a very different response from some folks when it counted, including mine.

    But there’s JAAAAAYYYYY. I can’t wait to see him fired this November, he and his cabinet are so incompetent. Having transit as a piece of congestion relief is part of the Bryant vision and I’m stoked for it.

    1. Joe,

      You either didn’t read the piece or ignored it. Jay Inslee’s vision is endless highway widening, but also won’t hurt transit. Bill Bryant is actively trying to destroy transit reliability.

  8. The chief of the State Police not only came out against using shoulders for shoulderless General Purpose lanes, but came out early and unequivocally that the measure was a bad idea resulting from a decision by the State Legislator.

    So I think opposition tactic ought to be, let traffic get bad enough that voters themselves demand that the body that caused the problem get it fixed. Like the Chief said. But nothing but “no” on the shoulders.

    Mark Dublin

  9. Denser mixed use land use and more transit is the only way to build our way out of congestion. We should be ripping out highways and replacing them with transit supported housing, industry and parks. Will make the whole region more livable.

    1. Not everyone wants to live in townhomes, urban cottages and big lifeless apartment blocks. Liveable doesn’t equal affordable. Vancouver, BC is a “liveable” city, yet housing costs are so high, many are forced to live in suburbia.

      Notwithstanding, many of the employment centers for this region (Boeing, Microsoft, and now Google) are located in Suburbia and not condusive to reasonable transit without dumping loads of cash to benefit a fortunate few.

      1. Imagine how much less affordable Vancouver BC would be if all that had been left zoned as single family housing, so that an even smaller number of people could live close to downtown.

  10. The author of this post doesn’t know what he is talking about. Do you ever drive that route? The bottleneck on 405 at 520 was not made worse by the previous widening project: It is the new hot lanes that has caused complete gridlock at 405 and 520. The implementation of the 405 tolls is total incompetence by WSDOT. The increase in congestion after the tolls went into effect was immediate and dramatic. I now experience congestion during times it ever before existed, such as 2:30pm on a weekday, or this past Sunday at 3:30pm. It is nuts. WSDOT and this blog want to focus of travel times from Lynwood to Bellevue as improving, as if that is the only metric to measure success or failure. The tolls, however, have created numerous new choke points on 405 and 520 in Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond that slow shorter trips on the 405, and now spill more traffic onto local streets.

    The local streets are being negatively impacted by the congestion artificially created by taking away a general lane for a tolls lane. People who don’t want to pay or can’t pay high tolls are diverting onto local roads, and jamming them full of cars. The negative unintended consequences of the 405 tolls are real and impact most of the people living in Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond.

    There is a reason why over 25,000 people signed the petition against the 405 tolls, and it’s not just a bunch of conservative ideologues who are opposed to the tolls. I know plenty of liberal Prius and Tesla driving people on the Eastside who dislike the tolls. As I said, it’s not the concept of tolls, but the implementation by WSDOT that is a failure. The Eastside state representatives, Democrats and Republicans, have heard this all from their constitutes and are responding. We aren’t crazy reactionaries, but are responding to very real negative effects on our lives. We can’t do simple errands around town we did just a few months ago. This blog must face these facts and stop being an apologist for WSDOT’s incompetence with regard to 405 tolling.

    1. There is a reason why over 25,000 people signed the petition against the 405 tolls

      Of course none of those signatures were actually verified and it’s really ease to computer generate “people”. FWIW, I and virtually every other commenter agrees that the 520 to 405 NB interchange was negatively affected and that the toll revenue should be prioritized to add back the merge/climbing lane from 520 to 70th.

      There’s currently a tail of two 405s. You’ve got south of Bellevue where there’s no tolls and the status quo. You’ve got north of Bellevue where they’ve made an attempt at traffic management with a two year mandate to see if it can make an improvement. Bellevue to Lynwood is 16 miles and Bellevue to Renton is 11 miles. Which commute is looking better?

    2. If those who demand an unfettered SOV commute would pay their fair share.

      As it is, they are demanding that I contribute my gas tax to satisfy their demand.

      Neither Liberal, nor Conservative, paying at least the fair percentage equivalent of a transit fare is the logical thing to do.

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