We all know a lot can happen in nine months, including over 11 million vehicles traveling in the I-405 express toll lanes. What's more, tolls collected from those trips will help fund new I-405 capacity sooner than we thought.
Here are some other nine-month trends:
- More vehicles are moving through the express toll lanes than ever before. Our numbers from the spring show the express toll lanes are now carrying more vehicles on weekdays from 5 a.m. – 7 p.m. than they did in the winter operating 24/7. We're also seeing that when people choose to drive in the express toll lanes, it frees up space in the regular lanes.
- Travel time savings are up, even in the regular lanes. All lanes of I-405 are moving more vehicles at faster speeds than last year, though the express toll lanes are providing 40 percent faster trips than the general purpose lanes. The exception? Northbound general purpose lanes between SR 522 and I-5, where travel times are three minutes slower than they were last year. We have plans to fix this bottleneck using hard shoulder running (more on that later).
- As demand increases, so does the average toll rate. The nine month average is $1.61—up from $1.26 during the initial three months of operations. More drivers are using the lanes, which mean higher rates, especially north of SR 522 where express toll lane capacity is limited to a single lane. However, the most common toll rate during peak hours this spring was still just 75 cents.
- We're hitting the $10 max toll more often. Toll rates adjust to keep the express toll lane flowing at 45 miles per hour 90 percent of the time, taking into account volumes in the express toll lanes and the regular lanes. We're seeing frequent $10 maximum tolls at access points between Bothell and Lynnwood, where demand is high and capacity reduces from five lanes to three lanes, creating a bottleneck.
While we're meeting our 45 mph 90 percent of the time goal, we see speeds drop below 45 mph when drivers enter the express toll lane when it's already at capacity. However, even when the express toll lanes are operating at slower speeds, they are still typically faster than the regular lanes.
- Express toll lane revenue is much higher than forecasted. With more drivers choosing the express toll lanes than we predicted, our revenue numbers are nearly three times the original forecast from 2012. There are some key reasons why our original forecast was so off, namely WSDOT is one of the first agencies in the nation to implement lanes that offer both electronic and pay-by-mail options for travelers, offering drivers an option to use the express toll lanes without a pass. In addition, the economy rebounded quicker than expected – creating new jobs and increasing traffic.
The increased revenue is good news for drivers because besides covering our operations and maintenance costs, we're working with the legislature to fund our first reinvestment of your toll dollars in the corridor. The first project that could receive express toll lane funding next year is the Northbound Hard Shoulder Running from SR 527 to I-5 Project. Through this project, we will add additional capacity during the northbound evening peak commute period by opening the northbound shoulder to general purpose traffic.
We'll have more details on this project in an upcoming post.