Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What to expect when I-405 express toll lanes open

By Ethan Bergerson
I-405 Express Toll Lanes Interactive Map

With just five days until the Interstate 405 express toll lanes open, the question on everyone's mind is what will traffic look like in the first few days, weeks, and months after express toll lanes open on Sept. 27. Drivers should pack their patience next Monday morning, as we expect it may be a challenging commute as drivers adjust to the changes.

We've been researching similar projects across the country in order to make an educated prediction about what to expect here, and we want to share what we've learned.

It takes time to get up to full speed
Every express toll lane project in the country has experienced a transition period at the start. We expect it will take traffic six months to a year to adjust as drivers learn the ins and outs of using the I-405 express toll lanes.

Especially with the first commute on Monday and through the first few weeks, we expect congestion in the regular lanes as more drivers familiarize themselves with entry and exit points, learn to read the signs, and grow comfortable enough to give the new lanes a try.

LA Metro ExpressLanes along I-110 and I-10 showed that it takes time for drivers to become familiar with the new lanes and for traffic to settle. Initial travel times increased and speeds decreased, but, they steadily improved over the one-year demonstration. These results spurred Metro to continue with the program.

Once drivers are accustomed to using the express toll lanes, this system will move more people more efficiently, in both the express toll lanes and in the regular lanes, by offering a choice to drivers to buy into the express toll lanes when they need it most.

The success stories are encouraging
More than 30 express toll lane systems have been successfully implemented in places around the United States, including Orange County, Calif.; Miami; Atlanta and our very own SR 167 HOT Lanes.
  • The SR 167 HOT Lanes have been a large success. Last year, the HOT lanes provided weekday drivers with an average time savings of eight minutes during the morning peak hour for an average toll of $2.25.
  • After express toll lanes opened on I-95 in Miami, HOV lane speeds tripled and regular lane speeds doubled.
  • The SR 91 Express Toll Lanes between Orange and Riverside counties in Calif. saves users an average of 30 minutes on their commute.
Will we get similar results on I-405? That remains to be seen, but we certainly think the express toll lanes will help traffic through the corridor. Some commuters will experience benefits from day one, transit, vanpools and carpools are going to get through the corridor much faster and more predictably in the express toll lanes. In addition, non-carpoolers will now have the option to pay a toll to use these new lanes. Getting people to their destination as quickly and safely as possible is our goal, and we're confident that this is a solution that will work for our region.

Believe it or not, public support improves with time
We know you're skeptical, that's to be expected. Across the country, public opinion polls found that people doubted express toll lanes the most just before opening but this eventually grew into support. Drivers want to see express toll lanes work before they believe they will help

Before San Diego implemented express toll lanes in 1996, only a quarter of drivers approved of the idea. However, a year later public support had increased to 65 percent.

Don't believe it could happen here? A recent customer survey of SR 167 HOT lane users showed that over two thirds of drivers believed the money they spent to use the lanes was well worth it and wanted to see express toll lanes expanded to other freeways in our region.

Are you ready for the big I-405 closures Sept. 25-27? Don't be late for kickoff – get detours and closure details here.

Please note that this work is weather dependent. If it is delayed, it will impact the Sunday, Sept. 27 opening of the express toll lanes.

Top 10 things you need to know about I-405 express toll lanes


Anonymous said...

How do you judge success? Increased revenue to the State or actually making travel easier?

Anonymous said...

Only WADOT is the only one in the country that is dumb enough to create a toll lane system that only has 2 or 3 general purpose lanes next to toll lanes. Other toll lane systems like the one on I-110 in Los Angeles and other cities have adequate general purpose lanes built first. They need to stick with the 2001 master plan that has 2 general purpose lanes in each direction, then build a toll lane system. On I405 from Renton to Bellevue and from I-5 to Hwy 522, there is not enough general purpose lanes. No other city in the country would build this system until addressing the dire need for general purpose lanes on the facility first!

WSDOT said...

Thanks for you great questions.
Success is based on improvement to the movement of vehicles. The lanes are designed to support 2,000 vehicles per hour. We currently see about 1,000 vehicles per hour in the corridor. We expect the managing of the express toll lanes to improve both speed and movement for buses, vanpools and carpools, as well as non-carpools who choose to use the lanes and pay a toll. This will be the 33rd express toll lane introduced in the US. The other locations experienced improved speed and number of vehicles in the regular lanes as well – all due to the improved performance of the express toll lanes.

The funding generated from tolling pays for the maintenance and operation of the toll equipment and the roadway. Gas tax funds paid for the project so there is no debt to pay off through tolls like the SR 520 and the SR 16 Tacoma Narrows bridges. The legislature directed the state to keep all funds generated from tolling on I-405 in the I-405 corridor. A separate account was created to hold those funds until the funds are identified for use.

Anonymous said...

And what % dose Good To Go get to keep?
To run the system and pay there people?
20% 30%?

jjinla said...

What Genius did the math on Florida? There is no physical way to triple the speeds in the carpool lanes, or double the speeds in the regular lanes without a)a huge drop in number of vehicles traveled daily or b)a huge increase in number of lanes in the first place.

So which was it? You see, people in Seattle actually know how to add, unlike their friends in Florida and California that blindly bought into the system.

6 months to a year to figure the lanes out? This is going to be a bigger disaster then the 520 project.

Anonymous said...

100% of the toll lane is paid for by the gas tax, and they are going to give 75% of the toll revenue to a Texas company. I wonder who is getting the kick backs from the Texas company as this toll lane project is one of the dumbest projects in recent memory.

WSDOT said...

We understand your concern. We want to assure you that drivers will have the same number of general purpose lanes as they do today when express toll lanes open this Sunday, but they will have the added benefit of two express toll lanes. Regarding the I-405 Master Plan, it envisions adding two lanes in both directions on I-405, but at this time the project is only funded for one. However, with this project, we expect general purpose lane speeds to improve by up to 10 miles an hour. When express toll lanes were introduced in Miami, average speeds in the HOV lane more than tripled during peak afternoon periods. At the same time, average speeds in the general purpose lanes more than doubled. The result of the I-405 express toll lane system will be a corridor that moves more vehicles and people more efficiently.

John Graham said...

It seems to me that there is something inconsistent between the expectation that State government is there for the benefit of all of the people and adding significant fees to formerly "free" tax supported services. I've never been truly poor but I know from from my student days that when the budget is very tight, any added expense, no matter how seemingly trivial, definitely matters. That's reality for some people all of the time, despite a 40 hour work week. For others the cost of taking advantage of these metered services does not even warrant a moment's hesitation. It seems as though the experience of those who are effectively excluded from these benefits is not calculated into the definition of "success".

Anonymous said...

I have looked through the website and can not find a layout of the new lane configuration. It would be nice to be familiar with the lane layout prior to Monday morning. As your recent post says there will be the same number of general purpose lanes, I look forward to seeing how this is accomplished southbound 405 at 520 where there is currently 3 general purpose lanes. Also, since you are having the same number of general purpose lanes, please confirm that there will still be 4 general purpose lanes northbound 405 from 520 to 70th.

Anonymous said...

This project will not work from Renton to Bellevue as it only has 2 general purpose lanes in each direction- A joke. I can't believe they would attempt to try and put this on one of the most congested freeways in the United States. All other cities in the US that has implemented a toll lane system has invested in general purpose lanes first, then put a toll lane system in. The new lane from the gas tax in Renton needs to be a general purpose lane.

Anonymous said...

What is being done to enforce the entry and exit points? People are crossing the double white lines this whole week and weekend. I noticed that there are not enough signage regarding "illegal to cross double white lines". Maybe you need to post that up on the lighted signs as well. I expect Monday's commute to be chaos because two person carpool people will not understand the signs.

Anonymous said...

"We expect it will take traffic six months to a year to adjust as drivers learn the ins and outs of using the I-405 express toll lanes." This is epic fail six months of chaos and confusion for tax dollars spent?

WSDOT said...

Washington State Patrol are out enforcing the rules of the road and have emphasis patrols on the I-405 express toll lanes. They are enforcing the illegal to cross double white lines rule, as well as the carpool occupancy requirement.

WSDOT said...

We have an Interactive Map that is very helpful and can help to plan your commute on the I-405 express toll lanes.

Jesse Ray said...

How can I check the current toll rates before I leave to more effectively plan my route?

Anonymous said...

You know...this is classic Orwellian, Big-brother society at work...Here's the carrot, yes, want to travel for free in the new car pool lanes, great, no problem!! Just put this transponder in your car, and away you go, no fees, no charges, just make sure you have three people in your car...Okay, what's the catch? There could never be something for free, right? Of course not. The catch is now you have this electronic device in your car that tracks your every movement. Think big brother? You betchya! Think tax by the mile, down the road? (no pun intended)... You betchya! Think evasion of privacy, since the government knows your vehicles location at all times...You betchya! Think higher insurance rates, when the government shares your driving history with the insurance company and they in turn jack your rates up, based on knowing your driving habits...You betchya!

For all the rest of the three-person carpoolers...You have adequate amount of people in the carpool lane, but don't want to be tracked and traced...No problem, just pay up sucker! Pay $10 everytime you take your kid to soccer practice, or pick you mom up from the nursing home to go for lunch and a walk, or God forbid you try to make it to work on time!

For all the two person car-poolers...You probably get the worst end of this, since you are now criminals for using the new THREE-person car-pool lane "during peak hours of course". Oh yeah, for non-peak hours, make sure you get your digital tracking device attached to your car, or be prepared to pay up for using the car pool lane too, by getting a bill mailed to you!!

For everyone else...well, you shmucks just get placed in an even worse highway parking lot yet!

Anonymous said...

These toll lanes are a total waste of capacity. We have waited for years for new general purpose lanes and this is what we get? Why can't the WDOT listen to the people of this state! We don't want these tolls.

Anonymous said...

People need to call the legislators and tell them to stop this madness! No toll on I405.

WSDOT said...

Hello Jesse-
Thanks for your question. The toll rates on the I-405 express toll lanes update based on traffic conditions every five minutes. We are not posting the rates online anywhere. Your best bet to get a feel for traffic conditions would be to check the WSDOT cameras in the morning, some of which show the live toll rate signs.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of all the reasoning ,a good chunk the people affected will be dissatisfied .1st raised gas tax and now this We will vote Republican this time and flush out all the Democrats who can't seem to get anything done without getting your hands in our pockets.

John Love said...

Notice the survey of approvals was done asking USERS what they thought rather than asking EVERYONE.
Of course if you can afford to pay more so you don't spend more time driving to work you are going to like this.
If you cannot afford it, you'll be sitting in traffic (and won't be asked your opinion).
This is a boon for the haves and a travesty for the have-nots. And, somewhat ironically, the have-nots will, while sitting in traffic, be burning more gasoline that they bought, and paid taxes on, which means they are paying the DOT gas tax even more than the folks who will be actually benefitting from it.

Preston Gallwas said...

I drove Lynnwood->Puyallup today, and I did save a significant amount of time for $0.75. I did get mildly annoyed at these factors:

1) In Bellevue when the use of the lane changes, there is no signage indicating that express lane is ending and converting to standard HOV. It's up to the driver to know the lanes only go to NE 8th and become 'regular' HOV after that. Even if WSP helps educate people on this, the lights/stops of people will cause more traffic. A simple sign stating the new rules at the NE8 switch would be plenty.
2) (Not about lanes but ...) I wish 167 and 405 had exit numbers that were used in descriptions. Instead of saying "the lanes end at NE8th" you could say "The lanes end at exit 13"
3) As expected, traffic was awful from NE 8th to Renton (as usual)
4) Once I hit 167, the toll read $4.75 -- ok, so we're at $5.50 total. Traffic must be horrible!
All lanes proceeded at 60mph until the toll lanes ended, at which point we were all met with 0mph. $4.75 entirely wasted. If it was supposed to be on traffic conditions this system was seriously out to lunch today. I watched the sign change from $4.75 to $2.50 to $4.75 all the while the lanes to my right didn't change.
5) I still had to get off 167 via 18 and drive through FW/Milton/Edgewood/Puyallup to get home. We can't get more lanes fast enough.

On the whole, I can definitely empathize with the comments of people who can't afford to pay. However the basis of these lanes is rooted in the fact that *my* paying for my use of the lane also helps you. That's actually more unfair to me -- but hey, that's social justice for you, yes?

WSDOT said...

Hello Preston Gallwas:
Thank you for your comment. I will pass along your thoughts on the sign at NE 8th St. We are looking at all of the signage out on the express toll lanes, and we do appreciate the feedback on potentially confusing locations. As for the toll on the SR 167 HOT lanes, I did look and there were no incidents that day, so I can’t speak specifically at why the toll rate was $4.75. Thank you!

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