Since opening the I-405 express toll lanes, transit, vanpools and carpools have seen an immediate benefit, and non-carpools now have the option to pay a toll for a more reliable trip. Drivers in the express toll lanes saved an average of 14 minutes southbound during the AM peak for an average toll of $3.05, and saved an average of 12 minutes northbound during the PM peak for an average toll of $2.35.
While express toll lanes are doing what they’re designed to do, we’ve receive a lot of questions about how traffic in the regular lanes on I-405 is being impacted. Today we’re going to be diving into weekday commute times in the regular lanes, with an in-depth breakdown of the different sections of the commute. This will all be based on weekday commutes in the regular lanes from Sept 28 through November 6, 2015, and the corresponding weeks last year.
Overall, we’ve seen travel times remain the same or improve in the regular lanes in both directions for drivers going the full 17 miles between Bellevue and Lynnwood compared to this time last year. However, increased traffic in some areas has led to more congestion in some spots, especially north of Bothell in the evenings.
Weekday mornings: Southbound regular lanesSouthbound in the mornings, we’ve seen time savings as high as 20 minutes in late October, with less dramatic improvements of 5-10 minutes in November.
Full 17-mile trip from Lynnwood to Bellevue
Every one of the first six weeks since the I-405 express toll lanes opened has seen peak travel times 5 to 20 minutes faster than last year in the regular lanes. Southbound in the mornings, we’ve seen drivers saving as much as 20 minutes in late October, compared to the same commute this time last year. The first two weeks of November, drivers are experiencing a time savings of 5-10 minutes in the regular lanes.
Now let’s break it down even further to look to at the shorter trips and what we’re seeing.
Lynnwood to Bothell
Drivers in the regular lanes are still experiencing 5-15 minute shorter travel times from Lynnwood to Bothell compared to this time last year. Weeks 2-5 have all seen peak travel times between 20-25 minutes, although this has crept back up slightly to 30 minutes in week 6. To put this in context, the average travel time for this commute this time last year was 35 minutes, with some days reaching up 50 minutes.
Bothell to Bellevue
South of Bothell, we’ve observed that the peak time has moved about half an hour later to 8:30 a.m. The result is that drivers travelling before 8 a.m. are experiencing trips up to 10 minutes shorter, with several weeks below the average for 2014. Travel times for drivers hitting the road around 8:30 a.m. are mixed from week to week, ranging from 5 minutes faster to a couple of minutes longer, with last week on par with the 2014 average. Overall the best weeks of 2015 are beating the best weeks of the previous year, and the worst weeks are still outperforming the worst of last year.
Weekday Evenings: Northbound regular lanesHeading north in the evenings, commutes have been improving south of Bothell, but slowing in the north.
Full 17-mile trip from Bellevue to Lynnwood
Drivers making the entire 17 mile trip from Bellevue to Lynnwood in the regular lanes have been seeing modest improvements over the last month. Three of the last four weeks have had peak travel times as low as 35 minutes – 10 minutes below the 2014 average. The first week of November was on par with 2014, but the following week was the best performance we’ve seen so far.
Next, let’s dive deeper again into the shorter trips.
Bellevue to Bothell
Northbound commutes between Bellevue and Bothell in the regular lanes have been significantly improved since the express toll lanes opened. Peak travel times have varied from 5-15 minutes shorter every week. This past week was the best performance so far, with average travel times 15 minutes or less, well below the best days in 2014. Traffic is now free flowing for much of this commute, with the congestion now concentrated within 2 miles of the SR 520 interchange.
Bothell to Lynnwood
As we reported two weeks ago, traffic north of SR 522 is now consistently more congested than it was before. This is because the increased capacity from a new fifth lane south of SR 522, combined with the improvements at the SR 522 and I-405 interchange, are putting more pressure on the bottleneck where five lanes of traffic goes down to three lanes, as would be expected. Travel times between Bothell to Lynnwood have been between 5 and 10 minutes longer than the 2014 average every week since the express toll lanes opened.
Improving this section is a very high priority for our traffic engineers. We are looking very closely at what we can do in this section. The solution may lie in changing the access points, but it is difficult to predict the exact effects of more access and we need to be sure that our actions would create benefits before we make a change. Luckily, we built in flexibility for ourselves by using temporary striping, and if we see an opportunity to create a sure benefit through access changes then we will make it.
What does all of this tell us?
Traffic is shifting day to day and week to week, and we anticipate it will continue to do so. This reinforces that it will take traffic six months to a year to fully adjust and settle into a new normal. It’s still too soon to draw long-term conclusions. We’ll be monitoring closely to see how the express toll lanes operate and how drivers are adjusting.