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.


Helena said...

WSDOT are like robots with there propaganda, lies and once again bogus graphs. Everyone knows the tolls are the biggest mistake in transportation history. The tolls have not only made a mess out of everyone's week day commute, they also made congestion on weekends where there had not been before. WSDOT needs to admit they made a huge mistake and turn the toll lane back into a general purpose lane. The new configuration would be 4 general purpose lanes and 1 HOV lane. This would make everyone's commute much better and makes the most sense after the seeing what a disaster these tolls have created.

Anonymous said...

We can fight this. And maybe those responsible will be looking for a new job soon...

Cu Bong said...

This morning toll from Lynwood to Kirkland is $7.00 , it is SEVEN dollars.
WSDOT, would you please advise that why it is so expensive this morning. My daughter called me in the morning and cried because she can't afford to pay that much money for just travel 4 miles to UW Campus. Then she decided to not using ETLs and get to the campus 20' late.
She told me I bought a meal from McDonald less than $7.00 and gave it to a homeless man stand in the intersection, she said "instead of most of that money will go to Texas company, I would rather share it to you"
SEVEN DOLLARS for a trip of 5 miles...this morning
we are not an ATM , WSDOT ? what are you thinking to get a toll that high , are you thinking of the people like us , living pay check to pay check, thinking of those students like my daughter, need to get to work parttime for school and get pay only $9.50 per hour?

Rich said...

ETL's seem to be working and helping. I would say the access/exit scheme seems to need some adjustment. They are too short and cause bottle necks. I see a lot of cars crossing the double line just south of 522 to get off at NE 160th. Southbound at NE 160th continues to be real bad and slow. Maybe more access/exit points would smooth out some of the issues along the whole route.

Jeff Gray said...

W$DOT continues to not state the obvious: There were ZERO issues with weekend traffic on 405 prior to the Extortion Toll Lanes going live. No bogus charts, no 'wait six months' nonsense is needed to explain this. Also, you know they are desperate when they try to blame the weather. As mathmc mentions above, I too am throwing my full support behind Rep. Harmsworth and will jump for joy when this boondoggle is finally scrapped. I only hope that the people responsible are fired or removed from office. I'm looking at you reps. Judy Clibborn, Marcie Maxwell, Marko Liias, Deb Eddy, Ross Hunter, and Larry Springer. Remember these folks at election time and bounce them out at your first opportunity.

Cu Bong said...

I am not opposing ETLs but not really satisfied the ways WSDOT studied and executed this project. WSDOT now admitted that the messy from SR-522 to Lynwood in both direction is now a nightmare ! they could have been predicted , because of their lack of experiences and bureaucracy . now they told us wait 6months to year to adjust, many years this project has dragged down to today. they used 155M for this project but NONE to used widen this stretch to make ETLs work properly

WSDOT said...

Rich, thanks for sharing your experience. We've added your comments to our list for consideration.

Jason Worthen said...

I was really was against the paid express lanes for I-405 to start with. But I carpool with my wife almost everyday. and we have a third person with us at least 2/3rds of the time. So getting a flex pass for both our cars I figured was going to be required. I had having to set aside the extra money. But now with the lanes during the week. They have been very helpful. Getting home during the week has been much quicker. I will say this though I only use 2/3rds of the express run. And I feel that the extended run from bothel to lynnwood is a ripoff and in no way does it really help traffic making people pay to use a extra lane. Now if they expanded it to have 2 express lanes like the rest of the run. I think we would see a huge difference. I really feel the state should revert that run back the way it was. Now the rest of the run. I'm mixed about. I think that on weekend it has caused a big issue and it should be changed. Maybe open one of the lanes up to all traffic or not require flex for carpools. Alot of people dont want to get a flex pass cause they dont really want to link it to an account or maybe some other reason. But either way. Its not right of the state to require people to buy that flex pass to use it. Some people that might carpool on weekends. Might only use I-405 1 or 2 times a week. How can you expect someone to dish out 45.00 per a car. to use 2 lanes for free 1 or 2 times a month. and that's just so they can get from 1 point to another and not take 1 hour. Over all the lines are a ripoff. But I do like the fact I can get home faster during the week.

WSDOT Toll Division said...

Jason Worthen - Glad to hear you are using the lanes and they are helping your commute! Carpoolers can get a free Flex Pass, which otherwise is $15 + tax. To get a free Flex Pass, go to Then, if you don't already have a GTG! account, you will need to load the account with $30 to use toward tolls on any WA State toll facility, or to purchase a new GTG! pass. If you have multiple vehicles in one family, you only need one GTG! account and therefore only need to load $30 one time. You can have multiple passes on one GTG! account. Also, you don't have to have a pass to use the ETLs. If you don't want to pay a toll, you can still use the regular lanes for free. It's all about whatever works best for your commute.

Anonymous said...

I have many issues with this program. Many I have listed. Here are two more:

First, I do not like the fact that 'Good-to-go' is a yet another method by which the WSDOT tracks peoples movements. In addition to it being another 'trust us, your data is safe with us' system, it is leading to a 'per mile toll' system where video, cell-phones and 'Good-to-go' RF tags are used to account for the use of your vehicle.

Current plans are to begin test programs in WA in 2016. The last proposal I read had the toll per mile at between $0.014 and $0.019. This is on top of the tolls being put in place now, the sales fees, the tab fees, gas tax fees and business infrastructure taxes.

Second, although it is stated that the funds will be used for our roads, there is a huge, and misleading section of the bill that states the funds can be placed in the general operating budget for the state. It is explicitly stated that when this happens, the funds can be used for a huge list of things, like:

" The following accounts and funds shall receive their proportionate share of earnings based upon each account's and fund's average daily balance for the period: ..., the budget stabilization account, the capitol building construction account, the Cedar River channel construction and operation account, the Central Washington University capital projects account, ... the cleanup settlement account, the Columbia river basin water supply development account, the common school construction fund, ... the county criminal justice assistance account, the county sales and use tax equalization account, the deferred compensation administrative account, the deferred compensation principal account, ... the department of retirement systems expense account, ... the Eastern Washington University capital projects account, ... the education legacy trust account,...the election account, the energy freedom account, the energy recovery act account, ... The Evergreen State College capital projects account, the federal forest revolving account, the ferry bond retirement fund, ...the higher education construction account, the highway bond retirement fund, ..., the hospital safety net assessment fund, the industrial..., the judges' retirement account, the judicial retirement administrative account, the judicial retirement principal account, ..., the mobile home park relocation fund, ..., the oyster reserve land account, the pension funding stabilization account, the perpetual surveillance and maintenance account, the public employees, retirement system plan 1 account, the public employees' retirement system combined plan 2 and plan 3 account, ..., the Puyallup tribal settlement account,..., the small city pavement and sidewalk account, the
special category C account, the special wildlife account, the state employees' insurance account, the state employees' insurance reserve account, the state investment board expense account, the state investment board commingled trust fund accounts, ..., the state route number 520 civil penalties account,... , the supplemental pension account, ..., the teachers' retirement system plan 1 account, the teachers' retirement system combined plan 2 and plan 3 account, the tobacco prevention and control account, the tobacco settlement account, the transportation 2003 account (nickel account),..., the traumatic brain injury account, the tuition recovery trust fund, the University of Washington bond retirement fund, the University of Washington building account, ..."

This list of non-road related funds this money can be used for is so huge I could not post it here, so I highlighted only a few of them. I don't know where i saw it first but W$DOT seems even more fitting now.

So it seems like the 'fees will only be used for our roads' is another lie. The more I see of this program, the more I see it is politics at its worst.

Anonymous said...

This is not at all a money making scheme. Infact this is the only way to scale road transport - privileged access to carpools and buses. There is a limit to how many lanes can be added.

To Folks who think this is a class warfare, yes it is. People who can drive cars have been polluting their way in cars while the Bus/transit folks have been inhaling all the fumes at Bus stops.

And who is to stop all the single car drivers from taking Public transit. Try it - it won't harm you. Infact it'll save you time, money (gas, insurance, car payments) and it is much much better for the planet.

WSDOT Toll Division said...

PlanetFreak - Thanks for your comments!

factometer said...

I was unable to get off on 522 due a blockage or shutdown or whatever, on Dec. 15, and had to take the next exit up. My normal toll should have been $.75, but I see I have been billed $6.50 - not due to my choice - because I took the next exit. Thanks WSDOT for forcing me to pay $5.75 extra.
This is extortion at its worst. It might even have been the time the monitors were blank (not showing any toll information....I can't recall) and NO ONE was driving in the toll lane because they didn't want the risk of a high toll. If the toll signs are blank, or you block an exit, the tolls should be $0.

WSDOT said...

Factometer – When the monitors are blank, the express toll lanes should be treated as HOV only. If you've already opted to use the lanes and pay the toll, you are able to stay in the lanes and complete your trip. The express toll lanes provide a choice that didn't previously exist on the I-405 corridor. We apologize if you felt forced in any way.

Morgan_S said...

I used to be very against the express toll lanes. I moved here from Southern California in August so I KNOW traffic. I have to say, traffic on the 405 here is just as bad as the 405 in Los Angeles. From Lower Queen Anne, if I leave work at 5, it would take me about an hour and a half to get to Kirkland (124th St.). Now I car pool every day with my significant other who works in downtown and since getting a flex pass, we get home before 6.
But, don't get me wrong, there are SO many things about the express lanes that could be improved tremendously.

1. Put up a PHYSICAL barrier on the DOUBLE double white lines! I wish I could give the cops my dash cam so they could ticket all the people who cut over the double double white lines because I have almost killed them and myself too many times to count in the 2 months I've been using the express lanes.
2. Let all electric and hybrid cars use the express lanes for free. I hated California for many reasons, but this is not one, hybrid and electric cars ride in express and HOV lanes FOR FREE! The state that is known for nickel and diming it's residents actually gave state incentives for people who purchased electric and hybrid cars. Take a hint Washington! They are already doing a part in reducing emissions, give something back to the people who care, WSDOT!
3. HOV should NOT be 3+ people. Enough people have elaborated on this so I'll keep it short. It should be 2 people during rush hour! DUH!
4. Variable prices are a sneaky way of extorting residents who are already extra to get home. Pick a price and stick to it! It shouldn't be based on volume of cars in the lanes. It should be by distance.
5. Where are the state police in all this mess? People constantly are crossing the DOUBLE double white line, cutting people off and making it even more dangerous just to get home. Why aren't they enforcing the laws that have just recently been put into place for these lanes that have so abruptly congested everyone's commute.

I can probably go on for days on this topic. Urban/Regional Planning was my major at USC after all. A system like this can't just be slapped in place like a band aid to "fix" the traffic problem. There needs to be constant monitoring and change needs to happen when this many people are so frustrated about it. It makes me wonder, do any of the people that made this system happen take the express lanes during rush hour traffic in the morning and at night? Probably not, or it would have been fixed a month after opening. Shame...

WSDOT said...

Morgan S, glad to hear the express toll lanes have cut your commute time, and thank you for your feedback on improving the ETLs.

1. A physical barrier between the general purpose and express toll lanes was considered, but there were safety issues that prevented us from implementing this option.

2. The Washington State Transportation Commission makes decisions about toll exemptions and they decided not to exempt electric and hybrid cars.

3. Keeping the two-person requirement at all times would mean the express toll lanes would be congested like they used to be. Transit, vanpools and carpools would go back to having an unreliable trip during peak periods.

4. Dynamic pricing is necessary to manage varying congestion levels.

5. The express toll lanes project budget contains funding for extra Washington State Patrol troopers to catch violators. Unfortunately, they cannot be everywhere at once.

WSDOT is constantly monitoring the express toll lanes and has made some changes already, with others under consideration. Actually, WSDOT's Toll Division Director takes the bus between Woodinville and Seattle during rush hour every day...

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