Thursday, January 26, 2012

How has your commute changed since tolling began?

by guest blogger Victoria Tobin

It’s been nearly a month since we began tolling the SR 520 bridge. And every day since then we’ve kept a keen eye on traffic patterns. Not just on SR 520 and I-90, but the entire region – I-5, I-405, and even that Mercer Weave across the Ship Canal Bridge. We’re watching it all. The common denominator is, it’s all changing nearly every day.

This is the biggest traffic change we’ve had in Puget Sound in decades. Drivers are still figuring it out. While it’s too early to draw conclusions with firm percentages, we are obviously seeing more congestion on I-90 and less congestion on SR 520. But that’s what we expected. Here’s another fact - we had more people cross SR 520 on Wednesday, Jan. 25, than any other day since tolling began. You can see how the numbers are still in flux and people are making their way back to SR 520.

While we’d like to be able to say that after a month of tolling we’re finally starting to see the beginning of the “new normal” in terms of traffic patterns, we just can’t yet. The reality is, we’ve only been able to collect about 12 reliable days of traffic data in the last month. There have been too many unpredictable variables (collisions on SR 520 and a stalled semi-tanker on I-90, just to name a few) that have altered the traffic data we’re collecting.

Since tolling started we’ve had three separate holidays, a week-long snow and ice storm and we are still cleaning up after heavy winds – there were numerous collisions, construction work and the post-holiday traffic rush – all variables that have changed and affected traffic all over the region and have had a significant impact on what we’d typically call “normal traffic patterns.” As a result, traffic volumes were way down across the region, not just on the floating bridges.

This is the first week since tolling began where traffic volumes are getting back to more “normal” levels. You (the twitterverse) see it too, and you’ve been tweeting and facebooking us, wanting to know what’s going on. We believe traffic will keep changing, across I-90, across SR 520, on I-5 and even on your local buses for the next few days, weeks and months. We expect people will continue to tweak  their routes and times to find something that works for their schedule, like they’ve done since tolling started.

It’s still too soon to make any changes and draw big conclusions. One thing we know is that traffic throughout the greater Puget Sound region is all interconnected. A change in one place causes a ripple effect across the region and not always where you might expect. It’s probably going to take upwards of six months before commutes really start to settle out and we finally reach that new normal.

That all said, it would be interesting to hear and know what your commute has been like since tolling started. Have you tried different routes? Changed your commute times? Tried taking the bus or carpooling? Are you working from home? What has or hasn’t seemed to work for you?

Your comments will be factored in as we work through this change. Thanks!

If you have questions or concerns regarding a toll bill, civil penalty or Good To Go! account please call 1-866-936-8246 or email GoodToGo@GoodToGo.wsdot.wa.gov.

39 comments:

Kevin Lathrop said...

I take 520 east from Montlake each morning at 8:45 and the difference has been amazing. No traffic at all and the former Montlake "crawl" has been eliminated entirely. I am more than happy to pay $2.80 each way for no stress in the morning. Color me impressed!

erik said...

I've been using the I-90 to avoid tolling when I'm driving and it's not busy (weekends, late evening or late morning). I carpool or bus about 50% of weekdays. Generally I pay about 2-3 tolls a week, most of them at off-peak times. Sometimes I can't be bothered to go around the I-90 and pay the toll. I'm happy to pay it when it saves me time, but during busy traffic times I *feel* like I'm "not getting anything for my money".
-erik

Anonymous said...

what used to be a bearable commute south i-5 and east i-90 around 9:00am is now a nightmare. Traffics is backed up all the way on south i-5 and across i-90.

The last 2 days I've actually travelled down 25th to get t o 520. This is so out of my way but saves we at least 20 minutes now that 520 is smooth flowing.

Anonymous said...

I'm a commuter from Roosevelt to Eastgate and the new tolling has had a positive effect on my commute. The morning backup in the left lane of southbound I-5 to get on 520 has disappeared. I have noticed the traffic south of 520 on I-5 is thicker than before and I-90 is definitely slower.
At least now I have the option of paying a toll and getting to and from work with hardly any traffic by taking 520. Or take the free route and slog through downtown and I-90.
Prior to the tolls, I always took I-90, and traffic on 520 would still adversely affect my commute due to backups on I-5.
Of course, all this would be moot if we would get rid of these left lane on and off ramps!

Anonymous said...

I have been commuting from home in Redmond to Georgetown for several years. I have enough fingers to count the number of times I've taken 520 across the water. Before 520 went pay to play, 90 had a few small, predictable, largely avoidable slowdowns on busy days, but otherwise traffic rolled at 70-I-mean-60 all the way across the lake.

Now 90 is a zoo. Slowdowns that back up past 405 every morning, traffic that makes a valiant but hopeless attempt to approach normal speed across the main span (on bank holidays), then back to 20mph. Slow all the way across in the afternoon, in every lane.

Company car related complications prevent me from taking 520 and avoiding this mess, so I'm stuck with all the rats jumping ship. I know they're tolerant of congestion, they used to take 520.

When does tolling start on 90 to sort this out?

Anonymous said...

I take I-90 into Seattle (Capitol Hill) from the Eastside every day between 7-8am. The traffic is adding at least 20 minutes to my commute each direction. Traffic on the hill is also worse than before.

Jeff Dubrule said...

I've worked at Microsoft for 3.5 years; I usually take the Connector or the bus from Seattle, but between the snow & some other personal reasons, I drove 6 times in the past 2 weeks. This is about the average # of times per year that I drove before the tolls went in.

I appreciate having the option to avoid traffic on the 520, although I plan to continue busing most days.

Llyra said...

Traffic on 522 has worsened dramatically. My commute has definitely been negatively affected by the 520 tolling.

Anonymous said...

I drive federal way to bellevue - not sure if it has to do with tolling but my commute has gone from an hour at peak rush to about an hour and 20-25 minutes all this week. Seems I-5 north, 405 north, and 90 west (as my alternate route 18 east to 90 west has also added about 20 minutes) have all been extremely higher traffic. My guess is this is due to all the traffic being pushed south to I-90 and the I-90 slow down as a result rippling through.

Anonymous said...

I work at Microsoft and take a Connector bus from Redmond to Lynnwood, SR520 to I405 to I5. If this is closer to the new normal, it's awful - so far this week it's averaged adding 20 minutes to my commute due to all the extra traffic on I405.

Anonymous said...

I commute from Newport Hills to Seattle on 405 to i-90 between 7 and 7:30. I figure my commute is at least 10 to 15 minutes longer each way since the tolls started. Please toll I-90 too so I can get to work faster.

Anonymous said...

I commute from Lakemont to Seattle and the additional traffic on I-90 has added 15-20 minutes each way of constant brakelights. It makes no sense for me to travel 520 but I would if I could. PLEASE toll I-90! The amount of time and gas everyone is using in traffic is worth it. Tolling 90 would likely allow you to reduce toll prices on 520, actually fund the 520 bridge and/or pay for improvements to the I-90 bridge when the time comes (because we should know that bridge will not last forever without repairs or upgrades and the federal government is likely not going to fund all of it). Again, please consider tolls on I-90 as many of us are not in favor of the "new normal".

Anonymous said...

I don't use either freeway, nor do I drive, actually. I typically ride Metro from my home in Rainier Valley to work in the International District. The bus I normally take runs up Rainier Avenue, past the I-90 ramps.

Each morning, the pattern is different. It all depends on the congestion on the freeway. When eastbound I-90 is jammed, the section of Rainier south of I-90 will be incredibly congested between the on-ramp and 23rd Avenue. When it's westbound that's jammed, it's Rainier north of I-90 that's really congested. However, t's rare for both sections to be congested at the same time.

Either way, it's doubled my bus commute time (from 12-15 minutes to 25-30 minutes), and in the afternoon it's just permanently congested from Jackson to I-90 on Rainier.

I don't mind anymore; adjusting the time I leave my house is easy enough, and on clear mornings I'll ride my bicycle which takes half the time.

While I do see the flow improving as people start going back to taking SR-520, I still feel that the best solution is tolling both bridges, at a lesser amount. I'm thinking $1 - $1.50 at peak hours. Surely you've all researched it enough to have concluded it wouldn't work, but I still like this idea.

embella said...

1st - thank you for providing a way for people jot down their observations. I commute from McCollum to SLU. Our KCMetro vanpool leaves at 7:30. This week, travel times via I-5 Express to Mercer Exit have taken 45 minutes (Friday light) to 1hr 10 minutes via HOV lanes. Pre-520 tolling time was usually no more than 45 minutes. Benefits of participating in a vanpool now regulated only to faster PM commute back into Everett (no change there when leaving at 5:15pm).

Anonymous said...

We live South of I-90 and work in Redmond, so taking 520 has never been a real option for us. Our commute in to work around 8:30 has taken us 2 hours EVERY DAY this week. It is just ridiculous. Why they didn't drop the price of the toll and just toll both bridges is completely beyond me.

Anonymous said...

I live in Greenwood and commute to Bothell. Needless to say my commute has dramatically worsened. If you toll I-90 you'll have to dust off the old Bothell Freeway plans from the 70s (and toll it too I'm sure), otherwise this road will be in even worse shape. Also, everyone who uses 522, please note that the speed limit is 45!, seriously even in the middle of a weekend afternoon people are going 35, what's up with that?

Anonymous said...

I take the 405 from exit 26 to exit 14 and the commute has just got impossible. It's bumper to bumper traffic all the way, even at 10:00 AM

Aaron M. said...

I live and work on the west side of the lake but occasionally go up I-90 on weekday mornings to play in the snow or get a hike in before work. With the removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and it's concomitant reduction in capacity I find that travel time to Snoqualmie Pass takes an extra 20-30 minutes when using SR-99 southbound to reach I-90. This is clearly due to increased traffic heading eastbound over the I-90 bridge due to the 520 tolling. Traversing through north Seattle to use I-5 South to get to I-90 takes about the same amount of time but is more frustrating due to traffic on the NE 45th St corridor. I also do a fair amount of night skiing at Snoqualmie Pass and I've noticed an increased delay of about 20-30 minutes when leaving downtown Seattle after 5pm and using SR-99 to access I-90, however this appears to be due to the traffic bottleneck reducing SR-99 South to 2 lanes has caused. I now use city streets to reach Edgar Martinez Drive when heading towards I-90 East in the afternoons which saves me upwards of 15 minutes in gridlocked traffic on the viaduct.

The bottom line here is that you've ruined what used to be a great alternative option to I-5 South for reaching I-90. While I suppose a balanced flow is a better flow, those of us who had it better beforehand are now paying for it in increased travel time and burned dinosaur bones.

Anonymous said...

Toll I-90- PLEASE. Get things back to normal.

Anonymous said...

I live on Mercer Island, work in Redmond, and regularly drive just north of the Northgate Mall in Seattle. Traffic has been a disaster. Congestion on I-90, I-5, and I-405 has gotten much worse since tolling began. This penalizes people who need to take those routes because they don't even have the option of paying the toll to avoid the congestion. I strongly encourage the DOT to consider tolling I-90. Tolling one bridge but not the other doesn't make any sense given the fact that both bridges are part of the same overall system. Charge half the amount on both bridges. It will raise the same amount of money (or more) but spread the pain evenly to all drivers.

Greg said...

Could you please provide that "12 reliable days of traffic data" and describe how it differs from projections? Would love to see the actual data you have so far.

Anonymous said...

I live in Sammamish and have been using I-90 for several years. After enduring several days of one hour + commutes I have given up and now take 520 in the morning. I take I-90 in the evenings because north 5 is usually backed up around the time I leave work, and I can't really afford to pay $7 a day in tolls. Not sure who's idea it was to only toll one bridge -- really not very smart.

Anonymous said...

Bellevue to Bothell - much worse!
Thanks to the greedy Democrats that need to extract every penny from the peasants.

Anonymous said...

Bothell to Bellevue via I-405 and back at night during rush hours. MUCH WORSE. Once again the government is choosing winners and losers, this time by tolling a bridge that we have already paid for. So much for American equality - shame on Gregoire and her party of elitists.

Anonymous said...

Well its awful. Naturally the 520 tolling has pushed traffic elsewhere. Can't understand who decided on such a high toll and for both ways too. That is just absurd. Lower the toll please and take some of the bulging traffic burden off of other routes. What a mess.

Anonymous said...

It's horrible. The combination of the tolling and the Mercer construction has turned my 35 minute (max 50) evening commute into a consistent 1.5 hour commute. I have to leave by 4:30 to make it to my son's daycare before it closes. I'd willingly pay the toll for 520 for better traffic, but it's miles out of my way (I live south of I-90 and work in SLU). I am seriously considering quitting my job if I can find some way to afford to do it.

Iner said...

I commute on I-405 and do not use 520. Traffic volume is greater at peak hours since the tolling and my commute cost has gone up from $.17/mile to $.20/mile. Fuel mileage dropped from 18-19 mpg to 16-17 mpg.

Anonymous said...

I live in the Kennydale area of Renton and commute across I-90 to go downtown Seattle. I drive alone. I leave home around 7:00 am. My commute pre-tolling was around 35-40 minutes. Now it has regularly been an hour or more. It's absolutely horrible. I cannot believe the impact on I-90. I figured maybe 10 more minutes but this is ridiculous. I've tried driving around the south part of the lake (I'm lucky that option is not completely out of the way) but I-5 seems more congested as I near the West Seattle Freeway onramp. There is no way around it. I guess the good part is that this change has forced me to seek out carpooling arrangements which I will be starting soon.

I do not understand why the toll has to be so much. $3.50 during peak hours is way too much ($5.00 if you don't have a pass). I would think that $2.00 each way (peak hours) would be more than reasonable.

Anonymous said...

My commute is now horrific. I cannot afford an extra $2k from my income. Now every other route from north to Seattle is a nightmare. So because I can't afford this punitive tax, I am forced into an extra hour in my car every day. Has anyone considered that lowering the toll would allow many more to be able to afford 520, bring them back on, moderate the impact on other routes and still provide the income needed?

Anonymous said...

I live on Mercer Island and commute to North Seattle. Clearly the effect on the Express Lanes, let alone the traffic backup otherwise, has been a disaster, punishing MI and HOV commuters alike. While I would favor tolling I-90 to even out the traffic, I do fear the impact on those who live and work on Mercer Island. There would be a disproportionate impact to the Island--the fees would be passed on to the residents through higher cost of living because we'd need to pay more for everything to attract workers of all sorts.

WSDOT said...

Twelve reliable days of traffic data refer to the somewhat normal days not on or near holidays or during the crazy winter weather week. When we look at traffic volumes, we see high volumes on SR 520 (which was normal) the day before tolling and then it takes a dive after and there are peaks and valleys of traffic every day – by last week, we saw drivers slowly but surely – coming back to SR 520 – highest so far at about 70,000 on Jan. 27. The dips on and near holidays and low traffic volumes when we had snow storms are not typical traffic days so need to be thrown out of the mix – the good data days were Jan. 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 23, 24 and 25. As of today we, of course have several more days of typical traffic data to add to the mix.

Greg said...

Sorry, I meant could you provide the data on how much traffic has dropped on 520, how much it has increased on 522 and 90, how much revenue has been collected, and how all of that differs from pre-launch projections for the days where you have good data?

There has been a lot of talk in the news about how traffic and revenue on 520 has been lower than expected, but we don't have any actual data. Could you provide the data or point to where it is available?

Anonymous said...

I'm back and forth across the I-90 bridge from Seattle to Mercer Island several times per day. One of the biggest difficulties is navigating the entrances onto the freeway because traffic has become so backed up on the main roads (I'm thinking of Rainier in particular). The WSDOT needs to do something to manage the flow. Next, if the WSDOT is serious about evening out traffic, it needs to lower the peak toll on 520. $3.50 each way is rediculous! But clearly they've intended all along to toll I-90. Well if you're going to make I-90 commuters pay for 520, then you need to toll 405 and I-5 as well. The burden needs to be shared equally among all the major arterials.

Anonymous said...

Bus Commuter from Renton to Seattle via I-405 and I-90 Corridor.

I find it disconcerting that WASHDot does not report on the reliability issues on the HOV lanes on West bound I-90 specifically from the Rainer station on I-90 to 5th and Jackson in the morning during peak hours.

How come WASHDOT does not report on the traffic flow for HOV lanes from Rainer station on I-90 to 5th and Jackson? How come there aren’t any traffic cameras or traffic sensors on this segment of HOV direct access lanes in and out of downtown Seattle (near 5th and Jackson)?

On 1/23, 1/24 and 1/25, during the morning rush hour there was significant backup on this segment of roadway to get to Downtown Seattle. (Added 15 to 25 min to commute on these days).

On 2/1/2012 the backup for HOV was over a ½ to 3/4 a mile. This added 15 min to bus commute.
I am sure one could calculate the additional costs to operate the transit system with significant increases in transit times and lost worker hours was not calculated in the justification for tolling 520. I am sure these costs were not included in the original analysis for tolling.

WashDot told me via email that gross numbers only up 5 to 10% overall. Not specific to the HOV lane West bound. This is insufficient information. How much traffic times have increased in the HOV lanes is not reported. All one needs to do is check METRO and Sound Transits reliability data to validate the delays in HOV lanes coming into Seattle.

Is Washdot planning to install Active Traffic Management (ATM) technology or other technology to dynamically manage traffic based on the prevailing conditions on HOV lanes or only limit to general purpose lanes to improve traffic flow. This technology could be very useful.

As a bus rider, I would expect greater interagency communication between WASHDOT, METRO and Sound Transit to communicate delays in HOV lanes. If the various agencies worked together, then the transit riders could change commute and get off the bus at the I-90 Rainer Station and take a bus. Unfortunately, the agencies are not working together and not communicating to the public about the traffic congestion on the HOV lanes as issues arise so riders can adjust their routes.

Please provide a link to your travel times and report that shows the average vs expected time (real time) for commuters that rely on HOV lanes along I-90.

I thought HOV lanes were supposed to provide increased reliability and reduced congestion.
Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Many of u s cannot pay 6 dollars per day to travel this route we are the same that cannot take 30 additional minutes to get to work - I work two jobs and just don't have the time to go around the bridge so this is adding about $200 a month to my commute so i am resigning next week from my second job - this system is simply insane


I am so desperate I have almost resigned to the method a couple of my friends use and that is changing lanes right under the east high rise cameras and "hanging" in the middle lane so the cameras can not read your plates

Rod Brooks said...

I'm driving into the toll now that I-90 has become such a backed up mess. This is the first time in 12 years that I've used 520 more than a couple times a month. It would have been better to toll BOTH bridges! I don't understand how people think it's better to drive 15 miles out of their way to save the toll. When you do that twice a day most of the toll savings is replaced by gas expense.

Anonymous said...

I-90 over Mercer Island has become a nightmare in both directions. I've seen more close calls with people changing lanes and generally not knowing which lane goes where. A giant #failwsdot in this case.

Anonymous said...

I commute from Milton to downtown Seattle. What used to be bearable at 30-40 minutes became nasty 40-60 minutes with the Spokane St replacement with demolition of the off ramp to 4th from westbound Spokane, the SR 99 work, and the closure of the South Park bridge and Airport Way bridges choking off all options from the south end to downtown other than I-5, I-405 and I90 or SR-599, 99.
Since 520 tolling began it has made a nasty situation intolerable as the average commute is 80-120 minutes as the diverters take I-90 and back I-5 NB from the south end all the way back to south Boeing field. Now we must ALL wait for the congestion of 2 bridges (520diverters and I-90 regulars) worth of traffic to weave onto I-5 north while at the same time being stuck south of the West Seattle traffic trying to get on I-5 north.
The sound transit buses are stuck on the same road in the carpool lanes so that isnt a viable option. There is no parking at the light rail stations except Seatac which is always full. 520 tolling may be necessary but it seems that the impacts to the lives of everyone south of I-90 along the I-5 corridor should have been considered when the price was established or at least not planned in conjunction with the closure of all of the other viable alternate northbound routes through SODO and Georgetown like Airport Way.

Anonymous said...

I have noticed several cars "splitting the lanes" that is making a slow lane change right under the cameras so they are not centered in either lane

I followed one guy off the freeway EBound and talked to him at the Burgermaster right of the freeway he said he does this both ways every day and has never been charged

Would this be Legal? It is simply a slow lane change - ticks me off a bit since I pay both ways every day

WSDOT comment policy

Post a Comment