Thursday is typically the worst traffic day of the week, and yesterday was no exception. As you probably saw or heard, toll rates hit $10 in the southbound I-405 express toll lane yesterday morning.
Just before 7 a.m. yesterday morning, we saw I-405 express toll lane rates for trips from Lynnwood to Bellevue reach $10 and remain that high for just over an hour. You’ve heard us say it before, and we’ll say it again—based on experience across the country, we anticipated a six month to a year ramp up and learning curve in the express toll lanes. The truth is, we’ve seen a ramp up of more people using the lanes faster than we anticipated this early in operations. And with that popularity, some new questions and challenges have arisen.
We’ve received a lot of questions today and wanted to try and address the most common.
Why did toll rates reach $10?
Starting around 6 a.m. traffic volumes started to increase in both the regular lanes and express toll lanes. Traffic was stop and go in the general purpose lanes which caused more drivers to enter the express toll lane to take advantage of a faster trip. As more drivers chose to use the express toll lanes, the toll rate continued to increase until the maximum $10 toll rates was reached.
When the maximum toll rate was reached, drivers continued to enter the express toll lane which led to speeds in the express toll lanes dropping below 45 mph for a short period of time in a small section, however, drivers still experienced a faster trip than those in the regular lanes.
Drivers saved an estimated 16-24 minutes for a trip from Lynnwood to Bellevue by choosing to pay the $10 toll to use the express toll lane. Toll rates are based on traffic congestion and as more drivers choose to enter the express toll lane, the toll rate increased to help provide reliable travel times.
Will drivers see higher toll rates more often?
During the morning and evening peak commute times when traffic congestion is heaviest, more and more drivers are taking advantage of a faster trip in the express toll lane. During the peak commutes, people are willing to pay a higher rate, causing toll rates to rise faster and remain higher for longer. Given the trend we’ve seen of more and more drivers choosing to pay a toll for a more reliable trip, we anticipate that higher toll rates will occur more often during peak periods in the future.
|Express toll lanes sign displaying maximum $10.00 roll rate.|
Didn’t you say the average toll rate would be between $1 - $4?
The average toll last week was still in this range, the peak toll has been reaching $8 for short periods during peak period commutes. Since opening, we've seen traffic volumes increase in the express toll lanes and as a result the average toll rate has increased during peak periods as more drivers are choosing to use the express toll lanes and pay a toll to have that more reliable trip than in in the regular lanes.
Express toll lanes provide a choice when driver’s time matters most for a more reliable trip – and we’ve seen that commuter’s value of time is higher than we originally anticipated.
- The average toll rate paid during the AM peak period (5-9 a.m.) southbound I-405 has increased from $1.50 the first week to $3.75 last week.
- The average toll rate paid during the PM peak period (3-7 p.m.) northbound I-405 has increased from $1.25 the first week to $3 last week.
Why are drivers in the single express toll lane seeing slow speeds at times during peak periods?
We’re seeing that drivers clearly put a high value on their time and are continuing to choose to buy a faster trip even as the rates increase.
In most cases, the higher toll rates are a result of heavy use of the I-405 express toll lane north of SR 522. Since there is only a single express toll lane at this location, there is less capacity to offer and therefore a higher toll rate is needed to manage demand.
While we are tuning the algorithm to help keep traffic moving, it’s important to realize that with the limited capacity in the single lane section there will be times when the demand is too high and speeds will drop below 45 mph for short periods. Our goal with any adjustment is to improve reliability and driver’s trip in the express toll lane.
Is WSDOT planning to raise the maximum toll rate above $10?
This is not WSDOT’s decision to make, and we have not asked for the maximum toll rate to be raised. The Washington State Transportation Commission is responsible for setting toll rates has set the range from 75 cents to $10 on I-405. WSDOT will regularly report to the Commission on the overall performance of the express toll lanes and when the maximum $10 toll rate is reached.
Did I just get charged $10 for every toll sign that I passed?
The answer to this one is no. This question just keeps on coming back – you always pay the price you see when you enter and you will only be charged one rate per trip. The signs may show different rates for different destinations, but you never need to add these rates together. If the rates go up while you are driving, you’ll still pay the original rate you saw when you got in. The rates are for any point up to and including the listed destination – in other words once you pass one of the listed destinations you pay the rate for next destination on the sign you saw when you entered.