Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Traffic recap third week of #405ETL

By Emily Pace

It’s been just over three weeks since the Interstate 405 express toll lanes opened, and we want to take a look back at what we’ve been seeing. As a reminder, it takes time for any big project to get up to full speed and we still expect it will take traffic six months to a year to reach full efficiency as drivers continue to adjust to the I-405 express toll lanes.

Express toll lanes moving more people faster
The express toll lanes have been helping move more people and vehicles quickly through the corridor than the old HOV lanes.

Average speeds and travel times between Bellevue and Lynnwood in the express toll lanes maintained near free flow conditions during peak periods again during weeks 2 and 3. The number of vehicles in the express toll lanes has surpassed the previous HOV levels throughout the two express toll lane sections, and are nearly double the previous HOV volumes during the highest peak hours towards the center of the corridor such as near Kirkland and Kingsgate.

So why did the express toll lanes sometimes look empty? Because the express toll lanes manage traffic more efficiently allowing more vehicles to travel the same distance in less time without getting stuck in traffic.

Changes in the regular lanes
After our first week, we reported that regular lane travel times have improved slightly since the express toll lanes have opened even though more cars are on the road then this time last year. Since then, we’ve continued to see these commute time benefits for those driving the entire distance between Lynnwood and Bellevue, but we’ve also noticed shifts in the times and locations of congestion that help explain why some drivers are telling us that they are seeing congestion where there was none before.

Travel time improvements for the whole 17 mile trip



The 17 mile trip from Lynnwood to Bellevue improved in the regular lanes during the morning commute. The above graph shows that the peak morning commute time was nearly 15 minutes shorter every day last week than the average weekday morning commute in October 2014.


The northbound evening commute gained some improvements in the regular lanes during the evening commute. Commute times showed improvements last Monday, and Friday compared to October 2014, but with increased congestion at times on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. All days were within the 95th percentile of traffic from this month last year.

Shifting congestion points
While we’re seeing less congestion overall, we are seeing some congestion points shift. 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. We’ll continue to share what we see.

Many drivers have commented that traffic seems to have gotten worse for their commute. For example, the new braided ramps connecting I-405 to SR 522 has helped to lessen what had been a major bottleneck on the northbound evening commute, however we've observed that some of this congestion has shifted further north along the highway.

In other words, while the trip in the regular lanes between Bellevue and Bothell has been improved, trips from Bothell to Lynnwood between Beardslee and SR 527 are seeing congestion during the evening commute. This has varied by day, with some days being the normal range we see on I-405 and other days travel times have been slower.

We've also noticed some shifts in the timing of congestion, which we are now observing earlier in the afternoons and more often on weekend commutes. Weekend congestion may be due to fewer drivers being familiar with the express toll lanes than regular commuters.

While this is a win for drivers going the entire distance along the corridor, it certainly explains the frustrations some drivers who drive a shorter portion of I-405 are experiencing.

Regional traffic patterns
We are working closely with cities and jurisdictions to monitor traffic on their roadways and do not have any conclusive data.

Regionally, we’re seeing traffic volumes rise throughout the corridor compared to this time last year, but cars do not seem to be going to I-5, I-90, or SR 522 in greater numbers than I-405. On the contrary, traffic volume has grown by less than 5 percent in all of those roads with the exception of I-405 where volumes have increased by as much as 9 percent.


In our next blog, we’ll talk about changes we made to stretches of I-405 where we converted auxiliary lanes to continuous general purpose lanes. We’ll discuss why we made those changes and how they’re impacting traffic so far.

36 comments:

Rudy said...

The 520 backup and on ramp to 405N takes an additional 10-15 minutes just to get on to 405, let alone the added time to Frogger across three lanes of traffic to enter the Express lanes. Here is a picture of traffic today at 2pm. http://1drv.ms/1Lp5vjf. This was after a 10 minute wait to merge on 405. This was at 2pm! I have seen the same backup at 12:45pm. Historically, any backup in this area didn't happen until after 3pm, and not to this extent. If there was better notice of the backup, I would choose a better path, perhaps even backtrack down to the express ramps. Note: Picture safely taken at a speed of 0 mph.

Cu Bong said...

I need to know why we using too much space for the weaves at exit/entry points: Southbound SR-520 and entry point for drivers from SR 522 /160th .
-these 2 weaves are creating bottleneck, and not creating any extra safety ( unless WSDOT prove it)
-Cars passed these 2 entry points will get wide open after that ( this proves that the weaves lanes are squeezing people in narrower lanes )
-Why don't we just use simple dash-lines at the same with exit/entry point SB 70th /85th ...this would make more spaces and avoid the bottleneck
-re-design the weaves lanes or take over a short distance of emergency lane from ETLs) to make more spaces for GPLs and open another early exit SR-520 only ( total 4 GPLs at this area)

Powder Ski Sue said...

Safety seems to have been compromised with all the confusion caused by the new land striping on 405 HOT lanes. Congestion at off-peak-hours and days seems to have increased, especially on weekends when there previously had been no problems. Continued construction at night is adding to the danger. I experienced an unexpected stop on the 405 northbound at 8:25 pm Oct 21 when the 2 cars in front of me didn't realize the barrels were eliminating the lane we were all driving in. I didn't see any warning sign, which if it was there, the 2 cars in front of me & several behind me didn't see either. It's a miracle we didn't have a huge crash before finally merging left from a stand-still into 50 mph traffic. I'm not at all happy with this HOT project. The fact that rich people can afford the HOT lanes and poor people can't further adds stress to our community.

Unknown said...

I do not remember the Washington citizens voting on accepting being taxed to using certain lanes on I405.

WSDOT said...

Rudy – thank you for sharing your experience. We are definitely seeing increased congestion in this area as your have described. It was hard to predict how traffic would shift when we opened the ETLs, and we will continue monitor changes as things settle over the next 6-12 months.

Working Stiff said...

Totally agree with Rudy, the backups on north bound 405 start much earlier in the day and stretch further south then in the past. I also agree with Powder Ski Sue, is it a coincidence that this road project was put in place in what some would consider the most affluent part of the state and where those with the most disposable income could care less what they pay to zip up and down this part of the city?

Also, it appears to me that these new lanes are being used very little but those cars I've observed using the lanes have one or two occupants, not many with 3 or more.

It appears to me that there are more cars in the non HOV lanes with 2 or more occupants than ever seen before.

Plus what about us service people with company cars and unable to obtain good to go passes now in the non HOV mix. Might that account for some of the increased backup during all hours of the workday.

Jeff Lykken said...

This project is a complete failure. How long do we have to wait before they admit that this was the biggest blunder in Washington State Transportation history.

Jason Hubbard said...

If peak Southbound travel times are from 5:30am-10:00am and peak Northbound travel times are from 3:00pm-7:00pm why is the 3+ rule in most of the day? If you are going to institute that policy to reduce traffic, why not apply it only during peak commute hours? I routinely travel southbound from Mukilteo to Bothell at 6:30 pm with 2 people in the car but can't use the HOV lane without being charged. This policy is creating heavier traffic where there used to be very little.

1d30277c-798b-11e5-aca3-47ddbe38031c said...

it's supposed to be illegal to cross the double white lines when driving in the express lane, but every day I see people get out of the express lane just before the camera charges for the toll, then they get back in the express lane. It's stupid to think a line on a road will stop people from gaming the system.

Loren Anderson said...

I've seen state patrol ticketing for crossing the double white lines.

Howard Lee said...

I take bus on daily basis. Bellevue to Lynnwood (ash way p&r) used to take over an hour on a bad day, now it's consistently ~35min. Love the toll lane. Embrace public transit!

Douglas G said...

Man I'm glad I retired in 2012.as for the empty express lanes ,DOT didn't make enough flex passes!!! WHY? Not enough time? Not enough brains !!!! or they want us to pay more and more!!!! 6,000 passes for all the freddy's in the area!!!!!!! REALLY !!!!! You kept telling us to get ready for Sept. 20 but you forgot to tell yourselves. What's up with that?

Chris said...

If the regular lanes are heavier traffic than normal and the HOT lane is not over crowded, isn't it time to reduce the HOV restrictions back to 2+ people instead of 3+ people to allow more carpools? Or is it really about the money?

WSDOT said...

Thank you for sharing your comment and concern. We are working with Washington State Patrol to enforce the system, however, they can’t be everywhere at once.

WSDOT said...

Jason, the 3+ policy is only in effect during peak travel times Monday thru Friday 5-9am and 3-7pm. All other times only two passengers are required.

Lois Robinson said...

Why are the illegal to cross double white line signs on the right when most of the drivers who illegally cross the double white lines are in the left lanes of the freeway? At what point are they really going to ticket people as it makes no sense to have those signs if there is no punishment for the offender? Routinely going from the I90 corridor to SR522 I count at least 12-15 people at night who cross wherever they want and cause traffic stops where they are not needed. I realize the State patrol is limited but I hardly see them patrolling the area on my nightly commute back home. The braided SR522 and I405 ramp has become a mess as you have traffic cutting from two different directions and is causing massive frustration with drivers who do the right thing. Come up with a better idea for the braided ramp system I understand the traffic coming from the onramp having to move into one of the two lanes but can't understand why it is so easy for those in the left lane moving into the right lane and causing congestion. Find a way to keep them from coming over because they don't want to wait in a line they jerk in and then we end up with brake slamming and bad tempers flaring from the drivers. I have hear more horns honked on this ramp than I do in Seattle traffic.

Dillon Hannah said...

I'm sure looking at data from behind a desk and waiting 6 months for people to find alternate routes to and from work sounds like a good plan. In reality, the stretch of 405 from Bellevue to Kirkland Exit 18 is a complete disaster. Times to merge from 520 or any on-ramp have increased, traffic is terrible and the car-pool lanes are next to impossible to get to or merge into. I've witnessed near accidents/accidents almost every day since the changes have gone into effect. The current situation is dangerous and a disaster, please fix it!

WSDOT said...

Lois, Washington State Patrol is handling enforcement. Check out their most recent numbers in this KIRO story: http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/troopers-say-fewer-crashes-i-405-same-time-last-ye/nn7hS/

WSDOT said...

Over the last month, we have been seeing shifts in congestion. Check out our one month blog for data.

Also, we chose the I-405 corridor because the congestion was worsening with growth and the HOV lane was shutting down during peak periods.

WSDOT said...

We’re happy you’re ok! Thank you for the feedback. We’ve been monitoring how drivers are using the access points in the project area, and where collisions are happening. State Patrol recently stated that most collisions are occurring in general purpose lanes and not in express toll lanes or related to the express toll lanes. They are low-speed and low-severity fender-bender related collision which you see with increased congestion levels.

Ihate405 said...

This has increased overall traffic and now just a few folks are on the poll lanes. How does this help the overall good and not just the lucky few? You should have looked at lane expansion rather than selfishly collecting cash at the expense of the majority of commuters. And why is carpool +3? So now anyone who used to carpool with 2 are pushed to the majority of single drivers, do you think it's easy to find 3 people to carpool with everyday? Whoever is in charge needs to get fired and the PEOPLE should vote on if we should continue this stupid wasteful project or not.

Notsoimpressed said...

What about the drivers who would usually use the carpool lanes, but there are no access points for miles and so they now have to sit in the overwhelming backups because the "access points" aren't for several miles? Also, to get into the lanes and out of the lanes miles in advance for upcoming exits makes for major headaches too. For example, if you get on the freeway at NE 8th in Bellevue heading north, the next access point for the lanes isn't until just before NE 70th St Exit in Kirkland (after 520 merging traffic), which is in the heart of the major backups with all the on-ramps merging at that point. AND, now there are no more "exit only" lanes so the person who would typically get to exit quickly has to sit forever in lanes that are literally not moving...and they can't use the "express" lanes either because they couldn't access them at any point before their exit. It is a waste for anyone who only travels 2-7 exits on the freeway. Those people's commute times have increased by a LOT!!! Why not make one lane an "express" lane for people who want to commute from Bellevue all the way to Lynnwood, and use the 2nd inside carpool lane for easy access "carpool" and not "express". It's ridiculous that WSDOT took away carpool lanes all together and made 2 lanes for express. Absolutely ridiculous. It should not be called carpool at all, they are purely private express lanes. I am beginning to think that most people who decided to do this live in/near Lynnwood.

WSDOT said...

In fact, we did look at lane expansion as a solution to the ongoing congestion issues I-405 has faced. Our research tells us that by building additional general purpose lanes we are only furthering capacity for buildup on the roadway. Instead, ee can move more people and vehicles more efficiently in the express toll lanes because we can manage traffic volumes in the lane. Drivers in the general purpose lane will benefit from people choosing to use the express toll lanes, making the entire freeway more efficient.

You should also know that people of all income levels benefit from the option to have a faster, more reliable trip. The purpose of express lanes is not to maximize the collection of revenue from I-405 users, but to give them improved travel at price points that maximizes the efficiency of the lanes.

ryan brodniak said...

All other issues aside, are the folks who've complained about lack of access points between Bellevue and Kirkland aware that there is one at NE 6th? If you're sitting in traffic on NE 8th and then merging with cluster of drivers coming from 520 I don't understand why you wouldn't just get on the express entrance at NE 6th and bypass all this. I use the lanes to travel from Bellevue to Kirkland (in evening only), and haven't had to pay more than 75 cents so far. That cost is pretty much offset in saved fuel.

Cu Bong said...

WSDOT's Tolling Director is Craig Stone , go to check it out his background and his experience ,
if you are not satisfied with ETLs , WSDOT's idea, then please contact your local state ref and ask them to request WSDOT action to fix faster rather than waiting for 6 months to year to make that changes.
The idea is OK but they executed the project with lack of experiences, ( traffic reduces at some area but build up more on other areas , exit/entry points are bad designed with stupid weaves,

A local politician is calling out the state's transportation department for what he alleges is some shifty lane swapping, undermining drivers on I-405.

"At the end of the day, whatever we call it, there are now only three lanes for general purpose traffic," said State Rep. Mark Harmsworth (R-Mill Creek).

Harmsworth, who represents the state's 44th district, is among locals who believe that I-405 had four general purpose lanes before the Washington State Department of Transportation took away one, and converted it into a toll lane. That goes against federal road rules, he said — the state cannot convert a general purpose lane into a toll lane. He added that WSDOT was supposed to maintain four general purpose lanes, after the state passed a tax funding just that.
http://mynorthwest.com/1024/2832174/Did-WSDOT-take-away-a-lane-on-I405-for-the-express-toll-lanes

Darwood said...

If this is not about the money, then why aren't the Express lanes open to all traffic outside the "peak" hours M-F? Every engineer knows Q=VA. I used to leave from Redmond at 7pm to travel northbound and I-405 was almost always wide open - magically I-405 NB traffic would immediately dissipate when the extra lane was available at 7pm (increasing "A" in "Q=VA"). Nowadays I-405 NB always has heavy traffic through at least 8pm, very frustrating.

WSDOT said...

Hey Notsoimpressed – WSDOT is actively monitoring the new striping and access points and intends to make adjustments where they are necessary. Access to the express toll lanes is based on a number of factors – including safety, symmetry of both northbound and southbound exit points, and trip volumes at each point. The goal is for express toll lanes to be as efficient and safe as possible moving forward.

WSDOT said...

@ Cu Bong - In your first comment, you ask about the designated access point weave lanes. While they do take up space, drivers still have the same amount of lanes to pass through the corridor. You may see drivers slowing down to enter or exit the express toll lanes. Weave lanes are designed to allow drivers enough time to safely adjust to the speed of the lanes they’re entering and find a window to safely merge. These lanes function very similarly to long highway on-ramps that allow drivers time to gauge and calculate a safe merge. In fact, designated areas to merge actually decrease congestion that would be caused by drivers quickly hopping in and out of the lanes.

Cu Bong said...

@ WSDOT , thanks for your response on my comments, next question.
I do now understand the purpose of weave lanes, however , would you agree that this stretch ( exit/entry point) never and ever been messy and bad traffic before ETLs opened? If you answer" NO, and it is better", then I give up and surrender to your bureaucracy and stubborn . I am driving this route for almost 20 years now, and still recognize how it was before at this section .
With that said , is that good enough to conclude the weave lanes need to WISELY re-design ?
the weave lanes provide safety as you proclaimed , WHY WOULD YOU APPLY THIS for exit/entry point at 70th and 85th on both direction ? the long dash-lines actually provide more chances for cars hop in /out and more safety and convenience .

Also-not-impressed said...

I have always used surface streets to get from Bothell to Redmond every day. Many folks have abandoned 405 in favor of surface streets looking to avoid the toll mess. The 405 toll lanes have had a HUGE negative impact on my commute. I now leave for work a half hour earlier due to extraordinary long waits at all traffic lights. WSDOT-you need to look at the entire equation (i.e. all roadways) when evaluating the impact of the toll lanes.
Also, I have had the same issues as "Notsoimpressed". The access points are not available in logical places, resulting in crawling along for miles before you can get into the HOV lane. It is incredibly frustrating to be in an HOV qualified vehicle, but unable to legally enter the lane.
For buses and vanpools the toll lanes are a success. No doubt about that. Everyone else, not so much.

WSDOT said...

Hi Douglas – We worked with stores to determine how many passes they wanted before launch. Many sold out quicker than they expected. Store managers can always email goodtogotolling@wsdot.wa.gov to place an order for more passes. We also stocked passes at all of our Good To Go! Walk-in Centers before launch.

WSDOT said...

Dillon, we understand that the shifting congestion points happening on I-405 are extremely frustrating. We've heard a lot of feedback about the SR 520 on-ramp in particular. We're monitoring the chokepoints and our engineers are looking at how we can improve traffic at those locations. As for safety, the State Patrol reports fewer collisions comparing this October to last. We hate to keep repeating the same thing, but it just takes time for drivers to get used to the new configuration and rules.

WSDOT said...

Good tip, Ryan! NE 6th is one option for express toll lane users heading north from Bellevue. This includes non-carpoolers paying the toll.

Say NO to Tolling Interstates said...

I'm not using I-405 any more due to increased congestion since the tolling started. It's ridiculous, even on weekends. Good bye dear Molbaks and Kirkland. I'll miss you.

I will likely not go further north than I-90 again on I-405, until this WSDOT craziness with tolling experiments ends.

You might want to check out www.tollfreeinterstates.com. And complain to WSDOT and to your state legislators, and to U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray about how tolling on the interstate is working out for you. The two of them (Sen. Cantwell and Murray) voted in favor of expansion of tolling on interstates on July 30, 2015 in passing the DRIVE Act through the Senate side of Congress. Gratefully, the House side of Congress refused to let the DRIVE Act be voted on in House, and the House is working on its own version of a transportation bill called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015. Both allow an expansion of tolling of interstates, but the Senate bill (the Drive Act) is worse than the House bill, in that the DRIVE Act allows toll revenue to be diverted to unrelated purposes. The House version prohibits diversion of toll revenue to unrelated projects. BOTH expand tolling. So let them know what you think about that. Despite the public being overwhelmingly against tolling interstates, the other Washington (D.C.) persists against the will of the people. No other state has been successful in tolling interstates due to public opposition. Don't give in to tolling interstates in Washington state. It's really bad policy. Give them a telephone call at their Washington, D.C. office --- not their local office. The action on the fast-moving federal legislation is back in D.C. Sen. Cantwell's D.C. office number is: (202) 224-3441. Sen. Murray: (202) 224-2621. Also call your Congressman (who represents your legislative district) and Congressman Rick Larsen of Everett. He's the only congressman from Washington state who sits on the House Transportation committee. His number is: (202) 225-2605. Let them all know how this experiment with tolling is working out for you.

WSDOT said...

Cu Bong, we are gathering feedback from drivers about bottlenecks and chokepoints that have developed and shifted, and our engineers are examining possible adjustments to consider making. We're asking drivers to be patient during the settling-in period and while we conduct full evaluations of various locations.

WSDOT said...

We are working with transportation staff from the cities along the corridor to monitor congestions levels on surface streets, and should have a report out on those numbers soon. Also, thank you for your feedback on the access points. We are looking at all the feedback we’ve received on access points to evaluate potential adjustments or extensions in certain areas.

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