Friday, March 20, 2015

I-405 Express Toll Lanes Part 2: A new option for 450,000 people stuck in traffic

By Jennifer Rash

Did you know that each weekday, over 375,000 vehicles travel the north end of I-405? That equates to over 450,000 people.  In the average 16 hours of daily consciousness, each person is faced with thousands of choices—everything from hitting the snooze button to how many stars on your Pad Thai.  Choosing how you travel each day is an important choice, typically based on factors of distance, time and comfort.

I-405 experiences eight hours of congestion a day, mainly during peak travel times for those 450,000 people.  Some are sitting in cars, others on buses and in vanpools, but all still in traffic.  In Part 1 of our express toll lanes series, we discussed the vision for HOV lanes in Washington, and how growth on the eastside has caused some I-405 HOV lanes to be as congested as the regular lanes.

Later this year, we will open 17 miles of express toll lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood to manage congestion in the HOV lanes and create new choices for I-405 users.  Express toll lanes give drivers the choice to use the HOV lanes by paying a toll.  Transit, vanpools and carpools meeting the occupancy requirement will be able to use the lanes for free. Toll rates will automatically adjust to keep the express toll lanes moving at 45 mph or faster.  By using price and volume to manage congestion, the express toll lanes will keep everyone moving and create reliable travel times for all users.

Some drivers might use them every day, but most will use them when they need them for a variety of reasons that are personal to those 450,000 individuals.  And for transit users, vanpoolers and carpoolers, you know that the lanes will provide travel time reliability—moving at least 45 mph.


How does changing the carpool requirement to 3+ during peak hours help reduce traffic?

On Wednesday, March 18, the Transportation Commission approved toll rates and exemptions for the new express toll lanes, including a change in the carpool policy to require three or more people to qualify during peak times on weekdays.

As we said in Part 1, we can’t build our way out of traffic— population growth means more cars will just fill up the new lanes.  Keeping the two-person requirement at peak times would mean the express toll lanes would continue to be congested like they are today, not meeting requirements that the HOV lanes move at 45 MPH or better 90 percent of the time.

The existing HOV lane is underutilized just outside of peak
periods and overused during the peak, causing slower speeds.

By changing the requirement to three people during peak times, and 2+ at off-peak times, the express toll lanes can keep traffic flowing at 45 mph or greater, providing faster, more predictable travel times for transit, carpools, vanpools, motorcycles and drivers who decide to use the express toll lanes.

When an express toll lane is added to the current HOV lane
between SR 522 and Bellevue, the increased capacity moves
more vehicles at higher speeds.

Common responses and reactions to express toll lanes and the carpool change:
  • How will this improve traffic?
  • It’s not going to work.
  • But nobody else in the world has to do this!
We know, we know, you’re skeptical. We expect that. But we have data that’s encouraging. More than 30 express toll lane systems have been successfully implemented in places around the United States, including Orange County, Calif., Miami, Atlanta and our very own SR 167 HOT Lanes. After express toll lanes opened on I-95 in Miami, HOV lane speeds tripled and general purpose lane speeds doubled. On SR 167 the number of trips has quadrupled since opening, now at 4,500 per weekday.

Will we get similar results on I-405? That remains to be seen, but we certainly think that this is going to help. Getting people to their destination as quickly and safely as possible is our goal, and we’re confident that this is a solution that will work for our region.

This map shows other examples of express toll lanes projects across the country.
Click on map to enlarge.

37 comments:

The Geezer said...

Not skeptical. Just observational, and this won't work, as I have said many times before

Mike Sandberg said...

This may look good on paper but I will be amazed if it works like you think it will. When it does fail you are going to look less than smart. The 167 plan did not even come close to generating the revenue you said it would. Why do you think this plan will? The definition of insane is doing the same thing over and thinking you will get a different result.

Mike Sandberg said...

this may look good on paper but i will be amazed if it works like you think it will. when it does fail you are going to look less than smart. the 167 did not even come close to generating the revenue you said it would why do you think this plan will?

Anonymous said...

I have yet to understand when exiting the toll lane at the last minute (which is a typical plan for at least 50% or more of the drivers) how will the flow not become major choke points all alone the route? Your video shows traveling vehicles but not video showing video of vehicles heading for the exits. Sorry I think its going to be a nightmare during the prime time commutes! Or maybe it all about the revenue....yes!

Anonymous said...

I have yet to understand when exiting the toll lane at the last minute (which is a typical plan for at least 50% or more of the drivers) how will the flow not become major choke points all alone the route? Your video shows traveling vehicles but not video showing video of vehicles heading for the exits. Sorry I think its going to be a nightmare during the prime time commutes! Or maybe it all about the revenue....yes!

Anonymous said...

This is ridiculous. If the HOV lanes will be moving faster, than the free lanes will be moving much slower. Still going to be the same amount of cars on the road each day.

Anonymous said...

This won't work. I have no solid evidence to back up my claims but I am too smart to be wrong. Because of this, I feel the need to point out this painfully obvious fact so as to enlighten everyone who isn't nearly as smart as me, which, in this case, includes everyone at departments of transportation across the country and many of their braindead followers.

Anonymous said...

It's obvious that there are a lot of wealthy, influential people using I-405.

Anonymous said...

Between this and Big Bertha the wsdot isn't showing up too well.

Manual labor would be faster at this point than that drill... 2 years behind schedule? Are we supposed to just keep throwing money at what was the least sensible solution to the viaduct problem? Drill through a false waterfront, brilliant.

The toll lanes are just a revenue generator. This state has no idea how to operate within a budget and continues to nickel and dime people every chance they can. Those who use the 520 are forced to since the alternatives in the north end are laughable. The toll lane on 167 is mainly used by HOV cars.

But hey, do some more studies, make another monorail that goes 1/4 of what was originally planned. Put whatever you build through the poorest neighborhoods and high five each other on a job well done 10 yrs too late.

Anonymous said...

We call that the privilege for rich people who can pay while the ordinary people stuck in the traffic and suffer more...Or you can call that rob the poor.

Anonymous said...

Now 449,900 people still stuck in traffic but worst, the other 100 rich people now can enjoy the privilege that govt help to rob from others. Amen!

Anonymous said...

How will you know when there are three+ people in a car?

WSDOT said...

Actually, the SR 167 HOT lanes are a success. They are moving more traffic more efficiently in the corridor. They were NOT designed be a revenue generator, that's not their purpose. Similarly, I-405 express toll lanes are a tool to manage traffic on I-405. It's an investment to get more traffic moving more efficiently in that corridor - and it's a sustainable solution. You may be skeptical. How they work may not be intuitive. But express toll lanes have been proven to work here and across the country - more than 30 times proven.

The Geezer said...

Please cite the 30 instances where they work.

Anonymous said...

The vanpool requirement shouldn't be raised to 3 people. I'm in a vanpool that starts out with 6 or 7 people in it, but as we come down 405S, we drop people off. Sometimes we're down to only two people for the last part of 405 into Bellevue. If we can't be in the HOV lane, there's a good chance we could be late for work. We're doing what's right be being in a vanpool and now we'll be penalized for it!

WSDOT said...

Express toll lanes are there when you need them. People of all income levels benefit from the option to have a faster, more reliable trip. Maybe its not an everyday thing, but when you need to get to an appointment on time, pick up a child from daycare or you woke up late for a meeting, the express toll lanes are an option. Also, national examples show that express toll lanes improve traffic across all lanes. After express toll lanes opened on I-95 in Miami, HOV lane speeds tripled and general purpose lane speeds doubled. We don't know if we'll get similar results on I-405, but we are confident that they will help improve traffic on one of the most congested highways in the state.

Missy said...

driving both ways during peak hours=$5000/yr per car (minus two weeks vacation). If this wasn't a revenue grabber, I don't know what it is.

What were the speeds when the Florida example you list double and triple speeds? 10mph?? What are their freeways like? Do their on/off ramps mimic our own? Too many variables for the "national" example. What are the other examples?

WSDOT said...

Geezer: While every community is different, express toll lanes provide similar benefits for people who ride transit, carpool, vanpool and drive alone. As we mention above, some drivers may use them every day, but most will use them when they need them for a variety of reasons that are personal to those individuals. With the I-95 example in Miami, before the express lanes, rush hour traffic crawled along at 16 mph in all lanes. After launch, speeds increased up to 41 mph in the general purpose lanes and 56 mph in the express toll lanes. In a west coast example, San Diego implemented express toll lanes in 1996. Only a quarter of drivers approved of the idea before launch, however, a 2002 follow up poll showed that over half of drivers supported the express toll lanes after launch when they experience the benefits. Please see map just added to the blog post that shows other examples of express toll lanes projects across the country.

WSDOT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WSDOT said...

Registered vanpools and transit will always drive toll free in the express toll lanes. King County, Community Transit and Sound Transit work with our customer center to ensure transit and vanpools are ready.

The Geezer said...

So, if I have two in my car during peak commute hours, but am not in a REGISTERED vanpool (whatever that is), then I pay, but if I am in a designed van, then I am not? Geezer, being of advanced age, is cornfused.

WSDOT said...

Missy, your estimate of $5000/year in tolls assumes the max $10 rate every day. In reality, a typical trip will cost between 75 cents to $4, depending on traffic demand and how far you drive. In comparison, the SR 167 HOT lanes tolls range 50 cents to a $9 maximum, but tolls have only reached the maximum a dozen times since the lanes opened in 2008. Also, not everyone will use the express toll lanes every day. Most will just use them when they need them – to make an appointment, catch a plane, etc. The purpose is to make traffic move faster for everyone, and this gives people another option to get there faster when it’s important.

WSDOT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WSDOT said...

Sorry for the confusion, but you’ve actually got it right. If you have two in your car during peak hours, you pay a toll to use the express toll lanes. You can register for a vanpool on RideshareOnline.com and ride toll-free during peak hours – or have three people in your car with a Flex Pass set to “HOV” mode.

Vu Nguyen said...

This is what we should do:
1)Toll all single occupants and big trailers on the freeway during peak hours
2)Use that money to open more bus line and also free bus ride during peak hours in certain zone

Could this work? This is napkin calculation:

+375,000 cars on the road. Let be pessimistic and say after we roll out this program, there are still 200k single occupant cars and trailers on the road. We toll $2 each car and more for semi trucks. How much does we receive? More than $400k/day

+Could $400k a day enough to cover for bus activity?
I quickly research king county metro, and my napkin calculation shows that its daily Operating Expense is roughly $1.7M. Remember, this is for the whole King County area. We only provide free ride in certain route such as those will use the freeway more. So could $400k a day is enough to cover additional cost? I think so.
http://metro.kingcounty.gov/am/budget/expenses.html

+Why we toll everyone? because encourage people to carpool doesn't work. Legislators, please watch this video.

http://www.ted.com/talks/jonas_eliasson_how_to_solve_traffic_jams?language=en

Traffic is a complex social behavior and contradict to our thinking, people will adapt to new rule. For example, those who doesn't need to be on the street during peak hours will alter their trip. Workers will adjust their work schedule or use alternative mode of transportation.

If we pay attention on the road, big trailers are also the problem. They occupy more road surface and move slower than cars. So they should be tolled.

Vu Nguyen said...

This is what we should do:
1)Toll all single occupants and big trailers on the freeway during peak hours
2)Use that money to open more bus line and also free bus ride during peak hours in certain zone

Could this work? This is napkin calculation:

+375,000 cars on the road. Let be pessimistic and say after we roll out this program, there are still 200k single occupant cars and trailers on the road. We toll $2 each car and more for semi trucks. How much does we receive? More than $400k/day

+Could $400k a day enough to cover for bus activity?
I quickly research king county metro, and my napkin calculation shows that its daily Operating Expense is roughly $1.7M. Remember, this is for the whole King County area. We only provide free ride in certain route such as those will use the freeway more. So could $400k a day is enough to cover additional cost? I think so.
http://metro.kingcounty.gov/am/budget/expenses.html

+Why we toll everyone? because encourage people to carpool doesn't work. Legislators, please watch this video.

http://www.ted.com/talks/jonas_eliasson_how_to_solve_traffic_jams?language=en

Traffic is a complex social behavior and contradict to our thinking, people will adapt to new rule. For example, those who doesn't need to be on the street during peak hours will alter their trip. Workers will adjust their work schedule or use alternative mode of transportation.

If we pay attention on the road, big trailers are also the problem. They occupy more road surface and move slower than cars. So they should be tolled.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for commuters, this is a nightmarish, poorly conceived plan that is going to make the drive even worse. This has nothing to do with improving the flow of traffic along 405 - somebody's pockets are getting lined.

Anonymous said...

I guess I am confused, if you reduce the number of cars in one or two lanes to enable those lanes to move faster how could that possibly increase the speeds in the other lanes. The only thing that will increase speeds across all lanes is to either add more lanes or decrease the number of cars on the road. This plan does neither of these things. Also the people in the express lanes will have to slow down to merge across the general purpose lanes to exit the freeway. How many of us stuck in the general purpose lanes do you think will be willing to slow down even more to allow those who can afford to pay the toll to merge in front of them. I have already started using surface steers for my commute and at an average of 25 MPH I get to my destination in less time than I would using 405.

shayne rush said...

Unfortunately this logic us flawed. Most people need to spend less time driving in traffic and more time enjoying their short life. Go look at Miami again. I bet you people started using alternate routes. We don't live in a well planned out location. People who work on the east side will excellence more bottlenecks because they can't go another route. More lanes doesn't mean more cars. More cars means more lanes and 20 years ago congestion on 405 was less. Higher population from companies hiring in Bellevue have caused this, so you're not going to see improvements in traffic is less people are using the lanes. Two people carpools will now not have the motivation to carpool so they might drive separately more, or at the least, will mover over. So... What used to be a congested hov lane will now be more clear and the cars no longer using those lanes will now be in the non hov lanes. Brilliant. It doesn't make any logical sense. Here's you're math. We have x amount of cars on the road. This number won't change, but the amount of lanes open to a portion of that x amount will now be closed so x cars per day will need to use one less lane. Based on that, traffic will go faster. Really?? This will only work if people start ganging up on carpools of four, removing three cars for each car on the road.

shayne rush said...

I'm on 405 right now (mid day Saturday) and there are lanes closed and traffic is terrible. I'm sick of paying taxes to build stuff I can't use, then they have the gall to tell me I can pay to use it...

shayne rush said...

This highway is slow. You can't even drive 60 most days. I don't call that a win.

Vu Nguyen said...

A better solution to the traffic problem is keeping people from using the road, at all. How?

Instead of using money to open new lanes, use the money to subsidize companies to improve IT infrastructure that enable employees work from home. If employees don't have to come to the office everyday, there will be less traffic, companies don't have to spend tons of money on real estate, employees will be happier which in return should increase productivity.

This solution makes everyone happy.

Of course not all types of work are suitable to work-from-home model and we can't eliminate traffic all together but it should ease the pressure on the transportation network tremendously. Plus, the majority of works in Bellevue and Redmond should be suitable for work-from-home model.

In fact, a big chunk of work around Puget Sound nowadays should be qualified for WFH.

WSDOT said...

shayne rush:

Adding more general purpose lanes is not a sustainable solution. Over time, the new lanes eventually become congested and simply add to the problem. We also must keep in mind that continually adding lanes to our highways could also have impacts to local streets. We know from experience here and across the nation that we cannot simply build our way out of congestion, and we know that we need to get creative to manage the growing demand on our roadways. Express toll lanes is to create reliable option for drivers that didn’t exist before. Yes, change is hard, and this is a big adjustment for a lot of folks, but the key is that the option is now available to everyone when they need it. Some drivers might choose to use the express toll lanes every day, but most will use them when they need them for a variety of reasons that are personal to those hundreds of thousands of individuals. And for transit users, vanpoolers and carpoolers, you know that the lanes will provide travel time reliability—moving at least 45 mph.

Unknown said...

Can semi trucks use pay lanes

WSDOT Toll Division said...

Hi Unknown - Trucks over 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight are not allowed into the express toll lanes. This is consistent with HOV lane restrictions throughout Washington. We will monitor traffic patterns in the new lanes and may consider adjusting the rules for some trucks in the future.

The Geezer said...

WSDOT--the ruse that if we build more lanes, they will just fill up is validation that you did what you should have done.

DUH!

The Geezer has spaketh

BewareOfGators said...

You specifically call out Miami as one of the successful implementations of Express Toll Lanes. Yet the Sun-Sentinel published an article on February 26, 2015 stating their toll lanes are peaking out at $10.50 and the toll lanes are still backing up. ( http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-95-express-toll-congestion-20150226-story.html ) This article also states they are looking at raising rates to $14 after they failed to meet the same goal you expect to meet: "The state's [Florida's] goal is to keep traffic in the express lanes moving 45 mph or faster 90 percent of the time. It reached that goal only 59 percent of the time in the afternoon rush hour in both November and December, the most recent data available. Sometimes drivers end up going even slower than the regular lanes"

What leads you to believe 405 ETL won't encounter the same problem?