In the last year, we’ve seen big changes not only on I-405 with express toll lanes, but also the Puget Sound region as whole with more people living and working in the communities surrounding the I-405 corridor.
The Puget Sound region is experiencing tremendous growth and a booming economy, in the last year the region experienced the biggest population gain this century and the highest growth rate in the past 20 years, and job growth is accelerating as well. Since 2000, when planning for the I-405 corridor was underway, population has increased a total of 23 percent and employment by 15 percent in King and Snohomish counties.
As more people live and work here, more drivers are on the roads. While the express toll lanes have shown to be an effective tool to provide a more reliable trip, the tremendous growth in the region doesn’t change the fact that there is still limited capacity on our already congested highways.
In September we provided a brief update based on trends over nine months. Now that we’ve got a full year data crunched, let’s take a deep dive into what the numbers are showing us.
Give drivers a choice
People are really showing us just how much they value the choice for a faster trip when they need it. Over the first year, people chose to pay a toll 10.1 million times plus another 4.4 million free trips in the express toll lanes for carpoolers and motorcycles. As new people move to the region, we continue to see new commuters in the express toll lanes each month. Even after one year, 50,000 new vehicles used the express toll lanes for the first time in September.
Provide a faster and more predictable trip
Not only are drivers in the express toll lanes saving an average of 13 minutes over the general purpose lanes, we’re also seeing benefits for general purpose lane drivers in most sections of the I-405 corridor including shorter travel times.
The exception is trips on northbound I-405, which travel between SR 522 and I-5, where capacity is limited as five lanes convert to three creating a bottleneck. We’re already moving forward with the first major improvement funded by tolling revenue, a new northbound peak-use lane from SR 527 to I-5 that will help reduce congestion in this area.
Curious on the specifics of how your commute has changed? We looked at a lot of different trips, over different time periods, to see how travel times have been affected.
Commuters traveling southbound in the morning:
- I-405 from I-5 to NE 160th St
- I-405 from NE 195th to NE 85th
- I-405 from NE 116th St to Bellevue
- I-405 at SR 522 to Eastbound SR 520 at 148th Ave NE
- I-405 from SR 522 to Bellevue
- I-405 from SR 527 to Bellevue
- I-405 from NE 85th to NE 195th
- I-405 from NE 160th St to I-5
- I-405 from Bellevue to SR 527
- I-405 from Bellevue to NE 116th
- I-405 from Bellevue to SR 522
- Westbound SR 520 at 148th Ave NE to Northbound I-405 at SR 522
We’ve also improved reliability for the express toll lane. When looking at the full corridor trip, the previous HOV lanes moved vehicles at 45 mph or faster 60 percent of the time. When averaged across both directions for the last six months, express toll lanes have improved the percentage of time speeds are meeting 45 mph by 25 percent compared to the HOV lane in 2015.
In the last six months the express toll lanes have maintained speeds of 45 mph 85 percent of the time during peak periods, below the goal of 90 percent. This is due to two factors:
- Limited capacity. Capacity was not changed between Bothell and Lynnwood on I-405. The slower speeds in the single express toll lane have influenced whether the express toll lanes meet the 45 mph metric.
- Increasing demand. Significant regional growth has led to more drivers choosing to use the express toll lanes, therefore putting more strain on the single lane section. Drivers also made 6,000 more weekday peak period trips in the express toll lanes in September 2016 compared to October 2015.
Funding future improvements
So, it’s hard to talk about the benefits of the express toll lanes this year without mentioning the revenue. We try to publish financial statements for all toll roads and bridges every three months to help you understand exactly where your toll dollar goes. If you want a refresher on how to read the financial statements, check out Dollars and sense: Breaking down the first I-405 express toll lanes financial report.
Here are the top takeaways from the first year of operations from September 2015 to September 2016:
- $21.6 million in gross revenue: That’s how much money was raised from people making a choice to pay a toll for a faster trip in the express toll lanes. Of the total revenue, $17.5 million was from toll revenue and the rest from other revenues such as Good To Go! Pass sales. People have gained more control over their commute, and this revenue is an added bonus because once expenses are covered, the money will be reinvested back into the corridor.
Most of your toll money is being invested right back into improvements for I-405 drivers, but where does the rest of it go? You might have heard the myths and rumors that 70 percent goes to a company in Texas, but this is undeniably inaccurate. Here’s the breakdown of our recent operating costs:
Over the past six months, 40 percent of the money raised on I-405 went towards toll collection. You might notice that the chart above is just for the last six months, not for the full year. This is what we expect operations costs to continue to look like in the future because our operations and maintenance costs were lower when the express toll lanes first opened.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown:
- The roadway toll system operations and maintenance team received 5 percent of this revenue. This service is provided by a vendor from Rockville, Maryland. They have a core staff of six in Puget Sound. Their compensation is also not affected by traffic or toll rate levels.
- State operations costs amounted to 11 percent of the revenue. This includes our staff costs, consulting support, and staff related costs such as rent, phones and computers, data collection tools, reporting on performance, software and office supplies.
- Customer service and billing operations received 9 percent of the revenue in these statements. Both services are provided by a vendor from Richardson, Texas. They employ more than 120 people right here in the Puget Sound region. This vendor gets the same amount per transaction no matter what the toll rate is or how much congestion there is.
- 15 percent of this revenue went to miscellaneous operating costs including enforcement by Washington State Patrol, Good To Go! pass equipment and distribution, toll bill printing, postage, and civil penalty adjudication costs.