Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving tolling travel tips

By Laura Johnson

Thanksgiving is upon us, one of the busiest travel days of the year. With Washington's tolled roadways — SR 520 Bridge, Tacoma Narrows Bridge, I-405 express toll lanes and SR 167 HOT lanes — that means several things.

Higher traffic volumes on Wednesday. Expect heavy traffic volumes as people hit the roadways Wednesday evening. Toll rates on SR 167 HOT lanes and I-405 express toll lanes adjust based on congestion. In the past, we've seen higher than usual toll rates during peak holiday travel times on SR 167 HOT lanes. Drivers on both SR 167 HOT lanes and I-405 express toll lanes may see higher toll rates if large numbers of holiday travelers use the lanes this year.

Holiday carpool rules on I-405. On Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 26, you'll only need two people to form a carpool all day long in the I-405 express toll lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood.

Make sure you have your Flex Pass in HOV mode and you won't be charged a toll with two or more people in your car. On Friday, Nov. 27, we're back to the 3+ rule for peak hours (5-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.).

Why don't the weekday carpool rates apply on Thursday? Since most folks have the day off work, volumes are lighter in the peak period commute times and don't require 3+ to manage demand.

Rates on the SR 520 Bridge. Weekend toll rates will be in effect on the SR 520 Bridge on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 26. Regular rates will return on Friday, Nov. 27.

Lines at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge tollbooths. There'll be lots of out-of-towners paying their tolls with cash or credit cards at the toll booths for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. We typically see backups at the toll booths after turkey dinner between 5 and 10 p.m. Please be patient and prepare to wait if you choose to stop at the toll booths, or you can choose from one of the several payment methods below.

Expect long lines on Thanksgiving evening at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll booths.

How can your friends and family from out of town pay the toll?
Here are the toll payment options for the SR 520 Bridge, Tacoma Narrows Bridge and I-405 express toll lanes. Solo drivers using the SR 167 HOT lanes must have a Good To Go! pass.
  • Short-term accounts. Visitors can open a short-term account 14 days before their toll trip or up to three days after, with their credit or debit card and pay 50 cents less than Pay By Mail. Just open the account by registering your license plate. The account automatically closes after 14 days.
  • Pay By Mail. Don't have a Good To Go! account? No worries, we'll mail a bill to the vehicle's registered owner, even if you're from out of state.
  • You can add friends and family to your Good To Go! account. You can add family and friends' license plate numbers to your Good To Go! account and they will only pay the Good To Go! rate plus a 25-cent photo tolling fee.
For all the details for people who don't normally use tolled roadways in Washington, visit our Tolling Visitors and Infrequent Drivers Web page. Have a safe and happy holiday!

Good To Go! customer service hours
Our customer service center will be closed Thursday, Nov. 26, and Friday, Nov. 27. You can always manage your Good To Go! account online at Customer service will be open normal business hours Saturday, Nov. 28, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

#405ETL: Thank you for your feedback. We’re listening.

By Emily Pace

Since the express toll lanes opened, we’ve heard a lot of feedback from drivers about access and entrances, and we want you to know we’re listening and taking your feedback seriously. While certain changes can happen relatively quickly, others may take longer.

The first week of express toll lanes, we made changes to striping at the southbound access at NE 160th Street to give drivers more space to merge. We also noticed traffic was backing up on the direct access ramps to NE 128th Street from the express toll lane so we worked with our signals crew to change the signal timing.

Here are some other changes we’re looking at to help make your driving experience better.

Addressing demand in the southbound I-405 express toll lane in the AM
Drivers are telling us that a faster, more reliable trip is important to them and since opening we’ve seen more drivers using the express toll lanes. In some cases, there is greater demand than there is capacity in the lane.

This is true in the single express toll lane on southbound I-405 between SR 527 and NE 195th Street where we’ve seen speeds decrease in the last two weeks as more drivers are using the express toll lane. We’ve heard frustrations from drivers and after closely monitoring the situation, this week we started making changes to the toll rate algorithm to help manage traffic better.

Our engineers found the toll rate algorithm wasn’t responding quickly enough as traffic volumes increased in the morning commute. So this week, traffic engineers made some changes that caused the toll rates to increase a bit earlier in the morning. This showed some positive results. Traffic in the express toll lane moved faster and the maximum toll rates were the same or lower than before the change.

It’s still early and we are continuing to make additional adjustments to improve performance in this part of the system. When we launched SR 167 HOT lanes in 2008, we made several adjustments to the toll rate algorithm in the first few months of operation. Last year, we made additional adjustments to bring the toll rate down quicker to be more responsive to traffic after peak periods. Ultimately, our goal is the same with any changes we make which is to get people to their destination as quickly and safely as possible.

It’s important to remember, our goal is keep traffic moving at 45 mph at least 90 percent of the time during peak periods. There will be times when speeds drop below 45 mph due to heavy demand or other reasons that we can’t control (collisions, heavy rain or inclement weather or even perhaps deer running down the lane).

Adjustments in striping
We also will be making some changes to express toll lane striping at the following locations to assist in improved access and reduce driver confusion. This work is weather dependent and we will work with our contractor to complete the work over the next few months.
  • Entrance of express toll lanes northbound I-405 at NE 6th Street in Bellevue:
    • Even with signage in the corridor, we’re hearing some drivers still aren’t realizing they’re entering an express toll lane, so we’re going to add additional Express Toll Lane stenciling to the pavement before and at the beginning of the lane.
    • We’ll also extend the access point at that location to allow folks more time to decide if they want to be in the express toll lane or not.
  • End of express toll lanes northbound I-405 approaching I-5 in Lynnwood:
    • Drivers need more room to merge to I-5 from the express toll lanes, so we’re going to pull back the double white striping about 400 feet to give them some space.
  • End of express toll lanes southbound I-405 at NE 6th Street in Bellevue:
    • If you’re in the left-hand express toll lane traveling southbound I-405 approaching NE 6th Street, you need to merge to the right lane to continue south on I-405. We’re going to add an Exit Only pavement marking to help alert drivers.
As we look at these improvements, we’re also seeing lower use of the direct access ramps. We want to give a friendly reminder that these ramps are open to all drivers in the express toll lanes. Previously only HOV drivers could use the direct access ramps at NE 6th Street in Bellevue (to and from the north only!) and NE 128th Street in Kirkland. Now you can use them, whether or not you’re carpooling.

Continuing to monitor other access points
We’ll continue to monitor access points to identify challenging areas. For example, we are keeping a close eye on northbound near SR 520 and NE 195th Street and southbound near SR 527 and south of NE 195th Street up to NE 160th Street.  We’ve received a lot of comments on these blogs and social media and we’re using them as we look at adjustments.

Why are we waiting before making additional access point changes? We considered many factors when locating and designing the access points, including making sure there is adequate room to safely weave between the access point and interchange ramps and that the access point is long enough for safe movement in and out of the express toll lanes. We need to make changes incrementally to ensure we understand the effect of individual changes. If we make too many changes at once and one change didn’t work, it would be hard to determine which change created the challenge and therefore how to fix it.

We need to keep these factors in mind when we consider what adjustments we can make to the access points. In the meantime, we’re taking all of the feedback we hear into consideration and continuing to look for potential solutions.

Don’t be fooled by Mother Nature – make sure you’re prepared for winter weather even in a “mild” year

By Barbara LaBoe

We may be looking at another relatively mild winter, but that doesn’t mean our roads will be snow- and ice- free.

Mother Nature is unpredictable. (A case in point? The high winds, rain and snow of the past few days.) Even so-called El Nino winters can have sudden, severe storms, turning a trip across a pass – or even to the mall -- into a winter endurance event. The key to safe travel is to be prepared and keep yourself informed about conditions so you can make safe choices.

First, make sure you and your vehicle are ready. Bring along winter jackets, boots and blankets just in case. Have some extra water and snacks in case you end up waiting for a road to be cleared. And be sure you have basic winter emergency tools already packed in your vehicle. Not sure what to pack? Check out these handy shopping and packing guides.

Make sure you and your vehicle are prepared for snow and ice before it arrives.
Next, be aware of current weather conditions and the forecasts before you hit the road. We have several tools to help you plan your trips so you “know before you go” and can also adjust plans as needed:
  • Check our best times to travel tips for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
  • Visit our “Keeping you informed” website as well as our mobile app and online tools for traffic information and ferry schedules.
  • Follow our social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, including several region or pass specific accounts.
  • Sign up for email alerts about traffic, road conditions and other information. 
  • Pre-program your vehicle radio to 530 AM and 1610 AM for highway advisory radio alerts.
  • Check current pass reports for chain and traction requirements on our website or by calling 5-1-1.
  • Review our winter driving brochure.
  • Leave extra time for holiday and winter travel, drive safe and keep warm.
Also make sure you’re prepared for weather or crash delays. We try to schedule snow removal and avalanche work for the least busy time, but sometimes weather conditions call for immediate response. Keep your gas tank full and your vehicle in good working order.

We work with the Washington State Patrol to keep roads clear and safe – but
we need drivers’ help as well, including being prepared for winter weather.
Lastly, make sure to take it slow, especially in icy conditions. Often pass and road closures aren’t due to snow removal, but rather a vehicle that loses control and ends up causing backups for everyone. Give yourself extra travel time anytime inclement weather is forecast.

We work hard to keep roads clear, but we need everyone’s help to ensure a safe winter season.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I-405 Express Toll Lanes 6 Week Review - Part 2: Weekend Edition

by Ethan Bergerson

We’ve written several blog posts examining weekday traffic on I-405, but we’ve heard from a lot of drivers about increased traffic on the weekends, so we took a hard look at the numbers.

What drivers have been telling us is true - weekend congestion has increased since the I-405 express toll lanes opened. Based on data from October 3- November 8, travel times between Bellevue and Lynnwood are generally up to 5 minutes longer throughout the weekend, with up to a 10 minute increase northbound on Saturdays.

There are many factors that affect weekend traffic. There have been many lane closures during these six weekends due to construction, several big-impact sporting events, and of course the rainy weather never helps traffic. According to archives, there was three times as much rainfall in Bellevue over these weekends than over the same time period in 2014, 3.7 inches this year compared to 1.2 inches last year. On top of all that, we’re still seeing fewer drivers in the express toll lanes on weekends. All of this adds up to impacts for regular lane drivers.

Saturday slowdowns
Saturday I-405 travel times have increased by 5-10 minutes on average in the first six weeks since the express toll lanes opened. For this time period in 2014, Saturday average travel times ranged from 15-20 minutes for most of the day in both directions, with the peak late in the day. This year, we saw southbound trips approach 20 minutes much more frequently throughout the day. While the increase has been under 5 minutes for most weekends, a couple of particularly bad days brought up the averages for northbound travel up to 5-10 minutes longer than last year’s average high at times.

Sunday slumps
Sunday traffic has increased less dramatically, with 5 minute or less increase in average travel times in the afternoons. Last year, Sunday average travel times remained close to 15 minutes for most of the time. Since the express toll lanes opened, average Sunday travel times in both directions crept up by a few minutes, ranging from 15-20 minutes in the afternoons.

Fewer drivers in the express toll lanes
We’re also seeing fewer drivers using the express toll lanes compared to the HOV lanes last year. This is in contrast to weekdays, when the express toll lanes are carrying more vehicles than the HOV lanes previously did. This, combined with weekend storms, construction, and other big events, helps explain the travel times in the regular lanes.

We do have a few observations about why fewer weekend drivers are using the express toll lanes on the weekends:
  • We suspect that there are many drivers who carpool with their family or friends on the weekend, but may not have a Flex Pass yet. This makes sense as many weekend carpoolers may not carpool as often as daily commuters, or may not be frequent I-405 drivers at all.
  • Weekend drivers might just not be in as much of a rush. We say that the express toll lanes are there when you need them, and maybe people just don’t feel the same need to make it to brunch on time as they do to make it to daycare by 6pm.
  • Traffic isn’t bad enough to make the toll worth it. Weekend trips may be 5-10 minutes slower if you’re going the full length from Bellevue to Lynnwood, but they’re still a whole lot less congested than weekday rush hours. 
More time is needed
We’ve always said that it takes 6 months to a year for drivers to adjust to the changes, and this is especially true for weekend drivers who may travel or carpool on I-405 less frequently and have had fewer trips then daily commuters to adjust to the changes.
  • Carpools with 2 or more people can still drive in the express toll lanes for free with a Flex Pass all weekend long. 
  • is still giving away free Flex Passes through the end of 2015. Anyone who carpools on I-405 at least once in a typical week qualifies, including weekend trips with your family.
  • Every week, more and more drivers continue to get Flex Passes, so we expect more carpoolers to return to the express toll lanes each week.
  • Construction closures, events, and weather also have a big impact on weekend traffic, and it has certainly been a busy and wet month. We expect that traffic will calm down when these other factors diminish.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Part 1: I-405 Express Toll Lanes 6 Week Review: Weekday commutes in the regular lanes

By Ethan Bergerson

Since opening the I-405 express toll lanes, transit, vanpools and carpools have seen an immediate benefit, and non-carpools now have the option to pay a toll for a more reliable trip. Drivers in the express toll lanes saved an average of 14 minutes southbound during the AM peak for an average toll of $3.05, and saved an average of 12 minutes northbound during the PM peak for an average toll of $2.35.

While express toll lanes are doing what they’re designed to do, we’ve receive a lot of questions about how traffic in the regular lanes on I-405 is being impacted. Today we’re going to be diving into weekday commute times in the regular lanes, with an in-depth breakdown of the different sections of the commute. This will all be based on weekday commutes in the regular lanes from Sept 28 through November 6, 2015, and the corresponding weeks last year.

Overall, we’ve seen travel times remain the same or improve in the regular lanes in both directions for drivers going the full 17 miles between Bellevue and Lynnwood compared to this time last year. However, increased traffic in some areas has led to more congestion in some spots, especially north of Bothell in the evenings.

Weekday mornings: Southbound regular lanes

Southbound in the mornings, we’ve seen time savings as high as 20 minutes in late October, with less dramatic improvements of 5-10 minutes in November.

Full 17-mile trip from Lynnwood to Bellevue
Every one of the first six weeks since the I-405 express toll lanes opened has seen peak travel times 5 to 20 minutes faster than last year in the regular lanes. Southbound in the mornings, we’ve seen drivers saving as much as 20 minutes in late October, compared to the same commute this time last year. The first two weeks of November, drivers are experiencing a time savings of 5-10 minutes in the regular lanes.

Now let’s break it down even further to look to at the shorter trips and what we’re seeing.

Lynnwood to Bothell

Drivers in the regular lanes are still experiencing 5-15 minute shorter travel times from Lynnwood to Bothell compared to this time last year.  Weeks 2-5 have all seen peak travel times between 20-25 minutes, although this has crept back up slightly to 30 minutes in week 6. To put this in context, the average travel time for this commute this time last year was 35 minutes, with some days reaching up 50 minutes.

Bothell to Bellevue
South of Bothell, we’ve observed that the peak time has moved about half an hour later to 8:30 a.m. The result is that drivers travelling before 8 a.m. are experiencing trips up to 10 minutes shorter, with several weeks below the average for 2014. Travel times for drivers hitting the road around 8:30 a.m. are mixed from week to week, ranging from 5 minutes faster to a couple of minutes longer, with last week on par with the 2014 average. Overall the best weeks of 2015 are beating the best weeks of the previous year, and the worst weeks are still outperforming the worst of last year.

Weekday Evenings: Northbound regular lanes

Heading north in the evenings, commutes have been improving south of Bothell, but slowing in the north.

Full 17-mile trip from Bellevue to Lynnwood
Drivers making the entire 17 mile trip from Bellevue to Lynnwood in the regular lanes have been seeing modest improvements over the last month. Three of the last four weeks have had peak travel times as low as 35 minutes – 10 minutes below the 2014 average. The first week of November was on par with 2014, but the following week was the best performance we’ve seen so far.

Next, let’s dive deeper again into the shorter trips.

Bellevue to Bothell
Northbound commutes between Bellevue and Bothell in the regular lanes have been significantly improved since the express toll lanes opened. Peak travel times have varied from 5-15 minutes shorter every week. This past week was the best performance so far, with average travel times 15 minutes or less, well below the best days in 2014. Traffic is now free flowing for much of this commute, with the congestion now concentrated within 2 miles of the SR 520 interchange.

Bothell to Lynnwood
As we reported two weeks ago, traffic north of SR 522 is now consistently more congested than it was before. This is because the increased capacity from a new fifth lane south of SR 522, combined with the improvements at the SR 522 and I-405 interchange, are putting more pressure on the bottleneck where five lanes of traffic goes down to three lanes, as would be expected. Travel times between Bothell to Lynnwood have been between 5 and 10 minutes longer than the 2014 average every week since the express toll lanes opened.

Improving this section is a very high priority for our traffic engineers. We are looking very closely at what we can do in this section. The solution may lie in changing the access points, but it is difficult to predict the exact effects of more access and we need to be sure that our actions would create benefits before we make a change. Luckily, we built in flexibility for ourselves by using temporary striping, and if we see an opportunity to create a sure benefit through access changes then we will make it.

What does all of this tell us?
Traffic is shifting day to day and week to week, and we anticipate it will continue to do so. This reinforces that it will take traffic six months to a year to fully adjust and settle into a new normal. It’s still too soon to draw long-term conclusions. We’ll be monitoring closely to see how the express toll lanes operate and how drivers are adjusting.

Gearing up for another round of wild weather

By Harmony Weinberg

Ready or not... here we go again! Another round of heavy rain, wind and snow up in the mountains will make its way to western Washington Monday afternoon, Nov. 16, through Thursday, Nov. 19. If you need to go anywhere, go prepared. Be sure to check this blog often as we will be updating this blog with closure information.

Current road closures:

Western Washington:
  • The West Side Highway (SR 411), north of Kelso at mp 6, is CLOSED until further notice due to a slide and power lines blocking the roadway.
  • US 2 - The roadway is still closed at Skykomish.
    Mountain pass closures:
    • US 2 is closed in both directions from the summit of Stevens Pass at mp 64 to Skykomish at mp 49 due to winter storm clean up. At this time there is no estimated time for reopening and no detour available.
    • SR 410 both directions: temporary pass closure on SR 410 from Crystal Mountain Boulevard near mp 57 to Bumping Lake Road near mp 88 due to trees over the roadway and increasing avalanche risk.
    • Chinook Pass/SR 410 and Cayuse Pass/SR 123 temporarily closed at noon on Monday, Nov. 16. Crews will reevaluate conditions throughout the week and decide whether or not to reopen or close the passes for the season.
    • The North Cascades highway (SR 20) is closed for the season.
    Highways Reopened:
    • Both directions of US 2 from Gold Bar to Skykomish have reopened. 
    • The ramp from NB SR 7 ramp to NB I-5 in Tacoma has reopened.
    • Both directions of SR 9 are back open at mp 73 near Acme following flooding from the S Fork Nooksack River.
    • US 12 has reopened between mp 115 and 116.
    • SR 17 is open to traffic in both directions from mp 41 at the junction with SR 262 to mp 47, three miles south of Moses Lake.
    • SR 20 (mp 121) has reopened between Newhalem and Diablo following a mudslide that blocked the roadway.  
    • SR 26 has reopened in both directions from mp 0, just east of Vantage, to mp 6. Earlier, there was poor visibility and blowing dust. 
    • I-90 has been reopened between Vantage and Adams Rd.
    • US 101 has reopened to both directions of traffic at mp 226 at Lake Crescent.
    • The SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge has reopened to traffic. Crews will continue to watch winds.
    • SR 112 has reopened between mileposts 25 and 28 after previously being closed due to water over the roadway. This location is west of Pysht in Clallam County on the Olympic Peninsula. 
    • SR 203 is now open from the SR 202/203 interchange (the roundabout) to Tolt Hill Rd following water over the roadway from the Snoqualmie River. 
    • SR 410 between Enumclaw and Greenwater has reopened.
    • All lanes of SR 512 near Pioneer have reopened.
    • Both directions of SR 530 have reopened just east of Arlington following flooding from the Stillaguamish River.
    • Traffic on SR 542 is alternating between mp 35-46 because of erosion from the Nooksack River at mp 39.6. You can read more about alternating traffic in our news release.

    North Cascades highway is closed for the season.

    SR 20 mudslide between Newhalem and Diablo.

    Mudslide on the West Side Highway (SR 411) north of Kelso at mp 6.

    Will the 520 bridge close?
    The criteria for closing the bridge to traffic and opening the draw span is 50 mph gusts sustained for 15 minutes. When a 40 mph gust is sustained for one minute, a warning alarm calls crews to the bridge for inspection and monitoring. As with all of our bridges our experienced crews can close the bridge at any time they deem it unsafe or when there is a potential for damage.

    Live camera image, refresh browser to refresh image:

    Stay informed

    Friday, November 13, 2015

    Significant weather event…

    By Jeremy Bertrand

    Current road closures:
    • TACOMA: Northbound I-5 and Eastbound SR 16 collector/distributor ramp to southbound SR 7 is closed until further notice due to excessive water on the ramp. A detour is in place. UPDATE: RAMP OPEN 11/15/15
    • SR 112 both directions from milepost 23.0 near SR 113 Burnt Mountain Rd to milepost 29.0 near Pillar Pt Rd. UPDATE: ROAD OPEN 11/14/15.
    • SR 110, in both directions, from milepost 8.0 at Leyendecker Road, to milepost 9.0 near Green Road. UPDATE: ROAD OPEN 11/13/15.
    • Slide on SR 112 eastbound at milepost 3.7. Traffic reduced to one lane. UPDATE: ROAD OPEN 11/14/15.
    • More...
    As you may have already experienced we've seen quite a bit of rain since Thursday and are expecting quite a bit more this weekend. Forecasters are calling for heavy rain through Sunday. The North Cascades highway is temporarily closed for the weekend, due to avalanche risk, and our crews are watching Chinook and Cayuse passes closely.

    Crews have been out clearing storm drains, but you should still keep an eye out for urban or small stream flooding. Forecasters are expecting most mainstream rivers to flood due to the significant amount of rain. Here's where you can keep up with those river levels: Remember, do not drive through standing water, it only takes six inches of water to stall a vehicle and a foot of water to float most vehicles.  Better safe than sorry.

    This atmospheric event is also hitting the Olympic Peninsula rather hard.  We've already seen trees down along SR 112, and road closures up near La Push due to water over the roadway from the Bogachiel River.

    The Pysht River is on the rise in Clallam County, as seen here on SR 112 near milepost 28.

    The mountains aren't immune to this event. Here's the extended forecast:

    • Saturday night:  Rain. Potential turn to wet snow pass area by Sunday morning.
    • Sunday: Morning snow concern pass and west side.  Snow concern later in the day and evening potentially under 2,000 ft.
    • Sunday night: Snow concern through late evening west of Snoqualmie Pass area down to under 2,000 ft., then easing up late night with solid freeze.

    If you need to go anywhere, go prepared.

    Stay informed
    We'll be continuing to update the travel alerts section of our website throughout the weekend and will be posting on Facebook and Twitter if there are significant closures.

    Thursday, November 12, 2015

    I-405 Express Toll Lanes: You Only Need One Pass

    By: Emily Pace Glad

    Note: This post has been updated from the original version to reflect new hours of operation for the I-405 express toll lanes.

    Anyone can use the I-405 express toll lanes. You don’t need a pass to pay the toll, but you might want one. And what if you want to ride for free as a carpool? We know you still have questions, so we compiled the top 5 things you need to know about passes and the express toll lanes below. Also, check out the first episode of Backseat Driver, where we talked to two commuters to answer their questions about passes.

    Here are the top 5 things you need to know:
    1. You don’t need a pass to use the lanes when tolls are being collected – enter the lanes anytime without a pass or an account and you’ll receive a bill in the mail for the toll and a $2.00 fee. Any Good To Go! pass will work to pay the toll – so if you tend to ride alone and you have a Good To Go! Sticker pass, you’re all set.
    2. The Flex Pass is the ONLY way carpoolers travel free in the express toll lanes during operating hours - when you are carpooling, you can flip the Flex Pass to HOV mode for a free trip. Remember, you must have the required number of passengers in your vehicle for the free trip: at least three people weekdays from 5-9 a.m., two or more people from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m., and three or more people from 3-7 p.m.
    3. The express toll lanes are open to all at night from 7pm – 5am and all day on weekends. You do not need a pass or a carpool at these times.
    4. You can use the Flex Pass on any toll facility – it gives you the options to pay the toll or ride free as a carpool in the express toll lanes and the SR 167 HOT Lanes. It also works to pay the toll on all other state facilities.
    5. You only need ONE Good To Go! pass in your vehicle – All Good To Go! passes, whether it’s the Sticker Pass or the Flex Pass, work to pay the toll on all state toll facilities: SR 520 bridge, Tacoma Narrows Bridge, SR 167 HOT Lanes and the I-405 express toll lanes. If you’re worried about having the option to ride for free, see #4 above.

    Monday, November 9, 2015

    Why is it hard to see lanes on Snoqualmie Pass at night and in the rain?

    By Summer Derrey

    It's not your vision. Sometimes, it's difficult to see the lane markings on I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass.

    The pavement markings on I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass have glass beads, providing reflectivity and making them bright in headlights. But rain is a significant problem even with new paint. Rain covers the glass beads and reduces reflectivity so the lines are not as bright and visible.

    We have tried many alternative striping products that are very expensive and or time consuming to apply. If we find something new, we are willing to test it, but we have not found a product durable enough to withstand the traffic and snow removal equipment. The most durable products lose reflectivity very quickly providing limited guidance in the dark, and especially when wet.

    We've tried other ways to make the lane markings visible on I-90. We installed Raised Recessed Pavement Markers (RRPM's) on I-90 from North Bend to Cle Elum.  The markers sit in slots below the level of the pavement to protect them from studded tires, chains and snow removal equipment, but are less visible when the slots fill with rain or snow.

    Stripes and recessed pavement markers delineate lanes.

    Last year, we installed more than 4,600 LED pavement markers in a seven mile section of I-90 near the summit in both directions. It's a test to see if these markers help drivers at night and in inclement weather, and if they can withstand the punishing conditions on Snoqualmie Pass. Since they are solar powered, grey days sometimes prevent the lights from shining all night.
    We are monitoring LED lights for the next several years to see how well they hold up in harsh mountain pass conditions.

    Glare screens were installed several years ago on the barrier from Hyak to Easton to reduce blinding headlights. While this does not specifically address lane markings, it is part of our efforts to improve visibility on I-90.

    Overhead lighting is used at key locations, primary on and off ramps.  The overhead lighting in the chain up and off areas is for the safety of those chaining up on the side of the road in adverse weather conditions.

    The other significant factor for visibility is traffic volume. More vehicles, more glare and more road spray makes it difficult to see.

    We are still looking for cost-effective solutions to make lane markings last longer and easier to see on Snoqualmie Pass. Until then, we will reapply paint at least twice a year and when needed as conditions allow.

    Our best advice to travelers is don't drive too fast for the conditions.  Adjust your speed when difficult conditions limit visibility.

    Friday, November 6, 2015

    #405ETL Customer Service Edition

    By Emily Pace

    We wanted to share some of the common questions our customer service center is hearing.

    Why am I waiting on the phone?
    Customers calling the customer center are waiting on average about 25-minutes to talk to a customer service representative. Why? With the launch of express toll lanes and the civil penalty reduction program, we’ve nearly doubled our monthly call volume. The monthly call volume in September and October was about 120,000 – our typical call volume is 60,000 to 70,000. 

    Reducing call volumes and wait times is our top priority. We have continued extended call center hours, so the call center is available from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The call center is also open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Advice if you’re calling: Typically, Monday through Wednesday have heavier volumes with longer wait times. Thursday and Friday have slightly lower call volumes and wait times. Calling earlier in the morning may also help.

    Are there things I can do online without calling customer service?
    Customers can address most of their account needs without waiting on hold by visiting Here are step-by-step instructions how to perform the most common account requests online:
    Flex Pass or sticker pass?
    Remember, you don’t need a Flex Pass to use I-405. Any Good To Go! pass will work to pay the toll or you can use Pay By Plate.  If you only drive alone on I-405 or only drive as two person carpools during the peak periods you don’t need a Flex Pass. You only need the Flex Pass if you are a carpooler meeting occupancy requirements and want to travel toll-free on the I-405 express toll lanes.

    Remember, you don’t need both passes! If you have an old sticker pass and purchased a new Flex Pass, remove that sticker before you install your Flex Pass to avoid billing issues!

    Where’s my Good To Go! Pass?
    Drivers ordering a pass through Good To Go! are currently waiting three and a half weeks to receive their order.
    • Waiting on a Flex Pass? If you are waiting to receive the pass you ordered online through Good To Go! or over the phone, you can visit a walk-in center and they can fulfill the order for you right then and there.
    • Need a Flex Pass now? Visit a retail location. Be sure to call the retail store in advance to ensure they have the pass you need in stock.
    • What if I’m waiting for my pass but have to use I-405 express toll lanes in the meantime? If you’ve set up your account with your license plate number and waiting for your pass, we will credit back the Pay By Plate fees. Also, if you can’t declare your carpool status because you’re waiting to receive your Flex Pass order, we will waive any tolls you’ve received driving the express toll lanes as a carpool. Customer service will confirm that your pass order is in progress.
    What are we doing to help address the wait time for a Flex Pass? We’ve already added a second shift to fulfill pass orders in Gig Harbor and are now adding a third shift at our office in Seattle. Since their introduction in March, we’ve already distributed more than 130,000 Flex Passes – far exceeding our first year estimates.

    Save $2 on every toll for I-405 Express Toll Lanes
    • Get a Pass! – About 50 percent of drivers in the express toll lanes had a Good To Go! pass. That means 50 percent of trips on I-405 are paying extra on their tolls. If you’re receiving a bill in the mail, you’re paying an extra $2 more per toll. If you have an account but don’t have an activated pass installed in your vehicle, you’re paying an extra 25 cents per toll. That adds up! The cheapest way to pay is with a Good To Go! pass.
    • Activate the Pass! – If you received a free pass or purchased a pass at a retail store, it still needs to be activated on an account. If you haven’t activated your pass, you will get a bill in the mail and pay higher toll rates on I-405 express toll lanes, SR 520 and Tacoma Narrows bridge. Visit and  open a new account or add your new pass to an existing account.
    • One pass, one car! Remove your old pass – We’re seeing a lot of folks with two Good To Go! passes in their vehicle – typically a sticker pass and Flex Pass. Please remove the sticker pass immediately because having two passes in a vehicle may result in incorrect bills.
    What toll rate am I paying? Three zones, multiple destinations.
    The I-405 express toll lanes signs show  up to three destinations. – What will you pay if you’re traveling to a destination in between those zones? Let’s say you’re starting in Bellevue and going to NE 160th St:
    •  Look for the sign prior to the entry point listing rates showing three different rates for the three destinations: NE 124th St, SR 522 and I-5.
    • These three destinations show the rates for any exit up to these point.
    • Drivers exiting at NE 160th would pay $2.50 because they are traveling past NE 124th St and exit before SR 522. 

    Wednesday, November 4, 2015

    The story behind Wednesday morning's rough commute into Seattle

    By Mike Allende

    The call came in just as our overnight maintenance crew was returning to their Corson Avenue base Wednesday morning, Nov. 4. Report of a loose expansion joint on southbound I-5 just north of the West Seattle Bridge. That was the start of what turned into a frustrating morning of traffic in Seattle.

    Between 5 and 8:40 a.m., our crew worked as quickly as possible to make temporary repairs to an expansion joint that failed when a large anchor rod broke, causing a metal plate to flap up into the roadway. Fortunately, no vehicles were reported damaged but with two lanes blocked, traffic soon backed up significantly, leading to 2-hour travel times from Everett into Seattle.

    WSDOT maintenance crews lift the damaged piece of an expansion joint on southbound I-5.

    Sparks fly as crews work to repair the broken expansion joint on I-5.

    While funding for highway maintenance has been stretched thin, keeping our highways safe for drivers is our highest priority. We work hard to prioritize fixes within our available budget and our maintenance staff takes great pride in their work. When we face issues like this, it's at best frustrating, especially emergency situations that affect our peak commute times with little warning.

    Unfortunately, we have an aging infrastructure and sometimes these emergency situations happen. We've replaced some of the worst expansion joints on that stretch of I-5 in Seattle and are currently replacing expansion joints on three I-5 bridges in Snohomish County. The expansion joints on much of I-5 are at least 50 years old and funding has prevented a full replacement for all of them, so we pick those that are most likely to fail. Like anything that ages, they get fatigued and eventually break and that's what happened Wednesday.

    Expansion joints are pieces of a bridge that expand and contract as traffic goes over them. But each time they flex, that puts pressure on them. Think of a paper clip. You can bend it back and forth over and over but eventually it will break. That's similar to what happened in this case. The anchor rod broke and the steel plate covering the expansion joint came loose.

    Our maintenance staff inspects our expansion joints every month, looking for metal fatigue and tightening anchor rods. The bolt that broke Wednesday had just been inspected six days before. But like going to the doctor, you can get a clean bill of health and then a few days later end up sick. In that case, you might be in bed for a few days. In the case of the expansion joint, traffic backed up from south Seattle to Snohomish County.

    Here's an example of the expansion joint bolt that broke on I-5. The bolt that broke was inspected last Thursday, Oct. 29.

    Skilled maintenance crews work carefully to fix the broken expansion joint on I-5.

    It was a rough morning for everyone involved and we appreciate drivers' patience as we worked to get the roadway fixed. We can't promise you that we'll never have another emergency roadway closure for maintenance, but we can promise that our crews will continue to work hard and do as much as we can within the resources we have to minimize these situations as much as possible.

    Tuesday, November 3, 2015

    A 20-year vision for public transportation in Washington

    By Sarah Shannon and Jef Lucero

    With so many cars already on the road—not to mention a projected population growth of 25 percent over the next 20 years—the ways we integrate, plan for and use public transportation need to change.

    The draft Washington State Public Transportation Plan is an innovative approach to planning for public transportation and aims to begin these changes, from how we look at partnerships to the ways we approach technology.

    The communities across our state thrive when our residents have access to the things they need most in life. Indeed, just the ability to get to our jobs and schools, to our appointments and errands, and home to our loved ones is fundamental to keeping our communities flourishing.

    And public transportation helps connect all of us with our communities.

    Our Public Transportation Division worked closely with local transit agencies and service providers throughout the state to draft this plan. Our goal: improve public transportation for everyone. These improvements will not only help people get where they want to go, they will also support economic growth, new jobs, and clean air and water.

    As we plan ahead to 2035, we invite you to re-imagine the future of our public transportation system. Together, we can change public transportation to get you to a more efficient, accessible and healthier future.

    We're asking for feedback on the plan through January 5, 2016. Please send comments to, call 206-462-6467, or take our questionnaire. We will also be talking about the plan at several community meetings statewide (pdf 383 KB) through the end of the year. Your feedback will be vital to the plan's development and the future of our state's public transportation system.

    You can download and read the plan, find out about community meetings in your area, and take the questionnaire at the Public Transportation Plan website.

    Monday, November 2, 2015

    Feeling tired? Stay off the roads

    By Barbara LaBoe

    UPDATE Nov. 8, 2016: This is Washington State Drowsy Driving Awareness and Prevention Week. Please remember to always drive alert and pull over if you're feeling too tired to continue. According to the Washington State Patrol, between 2012 and October 2015, there were more than 4,700 collisions investigated in Washington state where the driver either fell asleep, was fatigued or both while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

    The Shaw family, in sharing their story below, hopes to prevent others from going through similar experiences.

    Original Post
    Ever had your eyelids begin to drop while you're at the wheel? Or catch your vehicle drifting to the side of the road while you yawn? Bill Shaw has a message for you: Pull over.

    Shaw's 17-year-old daughter nearly died in a 2006 crash caused by a driver who fell asleep on Blewett Pass.  The crash turned the Issaquah father into an activist. He doesn't want anyone else to suffer like his family has – or, even worse, to lose someone to drowsy driving. He'll be sharing his family's story again this week as part of Drowsy Driving Awareness and Prevention Week.

    When Shaw first arrived at the emergency room, his daughter was so badly injured that doctors told him to start planning for her funeral. Mora Shaw spent two weeks in a coma, but survived in what her family describes as a miracle – and more than a year of painful recovery. The Shaw family feels incredibly blessed she lived, but Shaw says seeing the results of drowsy driving first-hand just makes the national statistics even more upsetting.
    This 2015 Christmas photo of the Shaw family almost wasn’t possible after daughter Mora, center,
    was nearly killed in a drowsy driving crash. The Shaws now work to raise awareness
    of drowsy driving dangers.
    Nationally, the National Sleep Foundation's website says one in 10 drivers has fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year and that one out of every six deadly traffic crashes is caused by drowsy driving. In Washington, 16 people were killed in drowsy driving crashes in 2014, up sharply from 10 such deaths in 2013. The Washington State Traffic Safety Commission already has logged eight drowsy driving deaths in just the first two quarters of 2015.

    We're an exhausted nation, Shaw says. We work too hard and get too little sleep – and then we try to concentrate on driving. Add in disorders like sleep apnea, and the situation only gets more dire.
    According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in such a crash as those sleeping 8 hours or more. People sleeping less than 5 hours increased their crash risk four to five times.

    Most people don't think about it, but "driving while drowsy" is also just as dangerous as driving drunk. According to studies in Australia, staying up 18 hours leaves you just as impaired as if you had a .05 blood alcohol level, and that increases to .10 after 24 hours. In Washington, .08 is considered legally drunk.

    Not sure if you're "driving while drowsy?" lists these signs that indicate you should pull over and rest:
    • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
    • Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts
    • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
    • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
    • Trouble keeping your head up
    • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip

    How do you prevent drowsy driving? Here are some tips from the Washington State Patrol:
    • Get a good night's sleep before hitting the highway.
    • Don't be in a hurry to arrive to your destination.
    • Take a break every two hours or 100 miles to help get refreshed.
    • Use the buddy system to keep you awake and share driving duties.
    • Avoid alcohol and medication that may cause drowsiness or have side effects.

    If you become fatigued after you're already on the road, recommends finding a safe place to stop and taking a 15-20 minute nap. That's enough to leave you refreshed without feeling groggy, the advocacy group says.

    Today, 27-year-old Mora Shaw has graduated college and is pursuing a paralegal certificate.  She still has pain and will eventually need more corrective surgery. As for her father, he's going to keep speaking out until everyone realizes how drowsy driving can shatter lives far beyond just the driver.

    So, the next time you're about to get behind the wheel while feeling tired, remember the Shaws. Pull over, get some rest and keep yourself – and everyone else on the roads – safe.

    For more information on drowsy driving and how to prevent it, visit DrowsyDriving.orgAAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.