In this blog post, we’re going to share what we’ve learned in the first month of tolling, paying especially close attention to the benefits we’re seeing in the morning commute and the new chokepoints drivers are experiencing north of SR 522 in the evenings.
Big time savings during morning commutes
We’re seeing time savings up to 20 minutes in the regular lanes of southbound I-405 during morning commutes. The average travel time for a trip from Lynnwood to Bellevue at the peak time of 7:30 AM has been about 40 minutes since the express toll lanes opened, about 20 minutes less than it was in October 2014, and 10 minutes less than it was in October 2013.
People who chose to pay a toll, carpool, or take the bus all saw even bigger time savings. During weekday morning peak hours, the I-405 express toll lanes saved drivers going southbound an average of 15 minutes for an average of $1.70 compared to the general purpose lanes.
How can this be? Thanks to added capacity between Bothell and Bellevue, the express toll lanes are now carrying more vehicles than the old HOV lanes ever could, including many cars that used to be stuck in the regular lanes. The following graph illustrates just how many more vehicles are travelling at free-flow speeds in the express toll lanes.
Evening commute benefits are harder to see
Evening drivers in the regular lanes on northbound I-405 did not see as dramatic a time savings, but may still have experienced some benefits depending on how far they travelled. The average travel time for the full 17 mile trip from Bellevue to Lynwood was a few minutes shorter than the same trip last October, and about the same as travel times in October 2013. While this benefit seems small when compared to the improvements for morning drivers, it still represents a trend reversal from commute times that have been steadily increasing over the last few years as the number of cars on I-405 has risen due to a growing population and booming economy.
As in the mornings, the biggest benefit was for bus riders, carpoolers, and any driver who chose to pay a toll. During weekday evening peak hours, the I-405 express toll lanes saved drivers going northbound an average of 17 minutes for an average of $1.60 compared to the general purpose lanes.
Shifting congestion points mean longer travel times from Bothell to Lynnwood
As we said last week, we’re seeing congestion points shift as the new braided ramps have helped to lessen the bottleneck at the SR 522 junction which has led to increased congestion further north along the highway. If you’re driving the entire 17 miles from Bellevue to Lynwood, you might get home slightly sooner, but if you’re making a shorter trip north of SR 522 you’ll likely experience new delays.
Previously, evening commuters experienced heavy congestion from Bellevue to SR 522, and moderate congestion from SR 522 to I-5. Now, heavy congestion in Bellevue starts and ends a little earlier. By 5 p.m. congestion is starting to lessen in Bellevue, with a 2 mile stretch of stop-and-go traffic in Kirkland, followed by about 5 miles of mostly free-flow traffic up to SR 522. However, heavy congestion north of Bothell is now starting earlier and building up from 3:30 – 7 p.m.
What to expect in the future
It will take traffic six months to a year to fully adjust and settle into a new normal. It’s too soon to draw long-term conclusions. We anticipate congestion points will shift and may vary day to day and month to month in the meantime.
For now, we’re closely monitoring I-405 to identify challenging areas. We are collecting comments from drivers, and watching the flow of traffic to see if adjustments will reduce new areas of traffic and where backups shifted to. We’re paying especially close attention to access points near SR 527 and SR 520 to look for opportunities to make improvements. We can’t make changes until we’ve fully assessed the impacts, but we did plan ahead by using temporary striping to allow for adjustments to access in the future.