Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Know before you go: I-405 Toll Rates Now Online

By Jennifer Rash

Since we opened the I-405 express toll lanes last September, we've heard from a lot of drivers that they'd like to check the toll rates online before heading out.

We're happy to report that drivers can now check I-405 express toll lane traffic conditions and get near real-time toll rates online using the new map tool.

You can begin using the map by clicking the express toll lane button on the Seattle traffic map page.

What are you seeing?
You'll notice the map displays green, yellow and red colors to reflect traffic volumes along the corridor. Those volumes, as well as speeds, in both the express toll lanes and the general purpose lanes determine the current toll rate. New toll rates are calculated every five minutes, so this means even if you check rates just before heading out the door, toll rates may be different by the time you get onto I-405.

What you need to know about this map
Toll rates displayed on the map will be approximately five minutes behind the rates displayed on the road. Why? Between processing, publishing, and serving the map to users on the website, the whole process takes a couple of minutes - and it can take up to 5 minutes.

So, this means if you're traveling on I-405 and a passenger in your vehicle is looking at the toll rate map on his or her phone – the toll rate on the sign may be different than what is displayed on the map.

The bottom line: Customers will be charged the toll rate they see on the roadway sign when enter the express toll lanes. The roadway signs will show the correct toll rate.

Am I going to pay a toll each time I drive past a rate sign?
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 entering the express toll lane. The rates displayed on the roadway signs are for any point up to and including the listed destination. In other words, once you pass a listed destination you pay the rate for the next destination you saw on the sign when you entered.

31 comments:

sstadnicki said...

Speaking as one of the people who asked for this when the HOT lanes were initially deployed, I'm thrilled to see this happening - thank you!

It feels as though there are still some rate issues - in particular, the single lanes from Bothell north seem like they're still substantially overpriced for volume (I've seen cases where the approximate volume and the approximate time savings from Lynnwood to 522 matched the savings from 522 to Bellevue, but it was $5.25 from Lynnwood to anywhere, but only $0.75 from 522 to Bellevue) - but overall I feel like the deployment has been a relative success.

chead said...

The question of when and how much someone is charged keeps coming back because it is obviously confusing. The last paragraph trying to defuse the confusion did not work as it only made things more confusing.

If the question keeps coming back maybe you should look internally and stop trying to change the masses. This is a DOT issue and not a driver understanding issue. You created the confusion.

WSDOT said...

Sstadnicki, thanks for the suggestion from the start – we hope this is helpful for people! As for the toll-rate difference, the demand is often higher in the north-end section due to restricted capacity and increased GP congestion. Higher toll rates in that section ensure vehicles keep moving freely. This is less of an issue in the double lane section past SR 522, resulting in lower toll rates.

WSDOT said...

chead, we want to make sure a driver entering the lanes will know the price for whatever exit they choose to take, before they enter the lanes. We admit the multiple rates on the sign may cause confusion for some drivers, but we've been clear that the toll rate corresponding to your destination is the only rate you'll pay.

JOB said...

I get it, these signs show the rate people would pay, unless they are cheating by setting their flex pass to HOV.

All snark aside, there is rampant cheating going on.

EC said...

My question--going Northbound from NE 6th express lane entrance, the NE 124th rate is usually at .75 cents but I seem to be getting charged more for exiting a block or two later at the NE 128th express lane exit. Does the toll significantly jump if I go the extra few blocks and take the NE 128th express lane exit--should I try to exit earlier than NE 128th to ensure the 124th rate being shown in the online graphic? Also, could the NE 6th to NE 128th rate be shown online?

Unknown said...

I have a similar question to EC above. If I get on northbound at NE 6th Street where the price for 124th street doesn't appear on the sign, and I get off at NE 124th St, will I get charged the price shown for NE 124th St shown on the sign at NE 4th St, or will I get charged the price shown for 522?

WSDOT said...

@EC, the 128th Street exit point and the 124th Street exit point are often tolled at different rates. Once you have passed an destination point listed on a toll rate sign, you'll then pay the toll rate corresponding with the next destination listed. Though the distance may seem quite small, at 128th Street there is often much more congestion in both general purpose lanes and ETLs. A higher toll rate will reflect the demand of the lanes at that point.

Derek Schlicker said...

I just confirmed with WSDOT that you will get charged the price shown for 522, even though it is not explicitly shown on the sign. Which is absurd. There is NO reason why people would use the express off ramp at 128th if that is the case. I just spent $4 and $4.75 more to take that ramp the last two nights.

So once the news gets out, when the pricing is higher at 522, former users of that off ramp will now be forced to move into general use (causing massive traffic behind them) in order to avoid that extra charge. This is incredibly poor flow design using the existing infrastructure.

Poor signage, poor pricing choices. Great job WSDOT.

Derek Schlicker said...

@WSDOT -

That is patently absurd. The marginal demand in congestion for that quarter mile is minimal considering the substitute cost of pushing all that traffic onto the 116th/124th off ramp. The nearest on ramp causing the increase in congestion you speak of is at 124th and is NORTH of this off/on ramp. By forcing people to take 124th that would normally take 128th, your shifting that congestion in general use SOUTH of where its currently at. How is that an effective solution?

WSDOT said...

@EC, the 128th Street exit point and the 124th Street exit point are often tolled at different rates. Once you have passed an destination point listed on a toll rate sign, you’ll then pay the toll rate corresponding with the next destination listed. Though the distance may seem quite small, at 128th Street there is often much more congestion in both general purpose lanes and ETLs. A higher toll rate will reflect the demand of the lanes at that point.

WSDOT said...

@Unknown, entering from the NE 6th Street direct access ramp gives you a choice of two destinations – each with a respective toll rate listed. You’ll pay of the two, depending on where you decide to exit the express toll lanes.

WSDOT said...

Derek, the 128th Street direct access ramp has a history of congestion. In fact, we recently had to adjust the traffic light at that entry point to better manage the on-ramp traffic. The 128th Street exit point corresponds with the SR 522 toll rate in order to minimize SOV traffic and prioritize carpools and transit options on that direct access ramp.

Unknown said...

@WSDOT. Bummer, but thanks for the reply. I was hoping if I entered at the direct access ramp northbound and got off at NE 124th St, I'd get the same toll as is posted on the sign that is just south of the there where the ETL's start. In many cases, it's only $.75 to go to NE 124th St, but the same higher rates as is posted at NE 6th St to go to 522. I guess I'll have to snake around and enter the ETL from south of there to get the low rate to NE 124th St. Frankly, this seems like a bug. It's a high price to pay just to use the direct access ramp. Yesterday, it was $4 to go to 522 from NE 6th, but only $.75 to go to NE 124th from where the ETLs begin at NE 4th or so.

WSDOT said...

@Unknown, we understand your frustration and appreciate your feedback. The toll rates displayed at the NE 6th direct access ramp prioritize the users who are planning longer routes in the ETLs, like transit vehicles and carpools.

Unknown said...

@WSDOT The ETL moves at the speed limit northbound from NE 4th all the way to NE 124th St even when the tolls are quite high ($4 or even more). I would think the $.75 fare should be applied for that reason even if the ETL is accessed from the direct access ramp. Second, the direct access ramp is never congested when I enter there at 5-6PM, even on rainy work days, so this goes way beyond prioritizing carpools - it's chasing away paying customers. Finally, there is no reasonable way for the thousands of people who work off NE 8th St in Bellevue to avoid paying the toll all the way to 522 without first going a great distance south to enter I405 (it doesn't look like NE 4th St gets you far enough south to get in the ETL where it starts). It looks like you have to go all the way down to SE 8th. In light of all this, why must the rate from NE 6th to NE 124th be the same as the rate to 522? Can this be changed? Thanks.

WSDOT said...

@Unknown, thank you for your comments. We will have our project team look further into this idea.

1dc5aaf4-a834-11e5-91a1-471520604c07 said...

Thank you WSDOT for producing the online tool which shows toll rates - this will be helpful in determining which route to take to and from work.

I was thinking about asking if such a tool could be developed, and was surprised to see that this is already done - thanks!

Brillotoo said...

I recently experienced the following on multiple nights: Entering at NE 6th the posted rate to 124th is $0.75 and to 522 is $5.25. Since my destination is 522 I exit the ETL at the 124th to avoid the extra $4.50 (for 3 miles). However, by the time I reach 124th the signage indicates only a $0.75 rate from 124th to 522. If the traffic in the segment from 124th to 522 is only valued at $0.75, why should I pay a premium to drive the entire route? Shouldn't the rate be $1.50 for NE 6th to 522?
Please fix this as it is very frustrating to drive to 124th and be forced out of the ETL by the price when the ETL lanes are wide open from 124th to 522.
This was not a problem when the ETL lanes did not factor in the volume of traffic in the main lines.

Unknown said...

Please update the WSDOT android application to also show the real time toll rates. This would be much more convenient than a webpage.

Thanks.

Lee said...

Pricing is whacky:
Example 1/19 at 9:25a:
At SR527: to 128th $1.50 to 85th $4.25
At 160th: to 85th: $ 0.75
Traffic in GP lanes between 128th and 85th is bad, so why isn't the rate at 160th higher?
Those people driving from I-5 or SR527 are getting ripped off. That "algorithm" needs work.

--Tamara said...

Thanks for this tool! Count me among those hoping to see this function in an update of the Android app.

I just keep wishing that the toll signs would tell me how much time I would save by using the ETL. Obviously that would be harder to accomplish on the physical signs, but perhaps this info could be added to the online page?

WSDOT said...

While the website is still new, its purpose is to provide a courtesy to drivers in planning their trips ahead of time. However, we will look into updating the app as well. Thank you for your feedback.

WSDOT said...

@Tamara, understandable. We’ve heard this request from other drivers and are looking into the feasibility of displaying time savings. For now, refer to this page: wsdot.com/traffic/traveltimes/default.aspx.

WSDOT said...

@Brillotoo, the direct access ramps (like the one at 128th Street) have less space and a traffic light, so traffic is a lot harder to manage after the 124th Street exit. Additionally, there is less capacity at that point, so we have to charge a higher price.

Rocky said...

I often see this pricing issue on the afternoons coming south on 405 from I5. Values to 124th and 85th are often 75 cents but 6th is 4.50. When you get part way, the value to 6th is now just 75 cents. What is the rationale for the premium? If you exit the toll lane for one segment, do you just pay 75 cents a 2nd time?

WSDOT said...

@Rocky, toll rates are determined based on traffic volumes and speeds in both the express toll lanes and general purpose lanes. If you are seeing a higher toll rate, it likely means the value of the ETLs has increased.

Matt said...

Before committing to pay a toll of $0.75 or $5, it would be valuable to provide an estimate of the time saved for the corresponding exit. Then drivers can decide how much $ their time is worth. Guesstimates would be a great start... something quantitative.

WSDOT said...

Thanks for the feedback, Matt. It is difficult to promise quantitative time savings in the ETLs because they are so easily subject to change and because toll rates are calculated every couple minutes. At this point, we have been able to provide toll rates online to give drivers a better idea of traffic conditions before heading out. However, we will continue to look into ways to convey time savings to drivers.

Unknown said...

The access from 520 to 405 northbound has now come to a standstill. It takes an average of 20 minutes to go from 520 westbound to 405 northbound. This is forcing me to drive up 148th to 85th to miss the backed up traffic and this still extends my commute time.

Also the distribution from 405 N to 522 E is now a complete joke. Even on a slow day the traffic is backed up almost a mile.

My commute is around 3:30 PM going north. What were you thinking with these changes and h ow are you going to fix t hem?

WSDOT said...

Unknown, thank you for letting us know. Feedback like yours is necessary for our project team to make thoughtful and helpful adjustments to the corridor’s chokepoints. Access points were designed with safety in mind, and we realize that some destinations will require a bit of backtracking with the current configuration. We understand that many drivers have frustrations with access points and we are already making adjustments, which you can read more about in another blog post: wsdotblog.blogspot.com/2016/01/you-want-it-you-got-it.html.

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