Friday, December 11, 2015

We hit $10 in the #405ETL. Your Questions Answered

By Ethan Bergerson

Thursday is typically the worst traffic day of the week, and yesterday was no exception. As you probably saw or heard, toll rates hit $10 in the southbound I-405 express toll lane yesterday morning.

Just before 7 a.m. yesterday morning, we saw I-405 express toll lane rates for trips from Lynnwood to Bellevue reach $10 and remain that high for just over an hour.  You’ve heard us say it before, and we’ll say it again—based on experience across the country, we anticipated a six month to a year ramp up and learning curve in the express toll lanes. The truth is, we’ve seen a ramp up of more people using the lanes faster than we anticipated this early in operations. And with that popularity, some new questions and challenges have arisen.

We’ve received a lot of questions today and wanted to try and address the most common.

Why did toll rates reach $10?
Starting around 6 a.m. traffic volumes started to increase in both the regular lanes and express toll lanes. Traffic was stop and go in the general purpose lanes which caused more drivers to enter the express toll lane to take advantage of a faster trip. As more drivers chose to use the express toll lanes, the toll rate continued to increase until the maximum $10 toll rates was reached.

When the maximum toll rate was reached, drivers continued to enter the express toll lane which led to speeds in the express toll lanes dropping below 45 mph for a short period of time in a small section, however, drivers still experienced a faster trip than those in the regular lanes.

Drivers saved an estimated 16-24 minutes for a trip from Lynnwood to Bellevue by choosing to pay the $10 toll to use the express toll lane. Toll rates are based on traffic congestion and as more drivers choose to enter the express toll lane, the toll rate increased to help provide reliable travel times.

Will drivers see higher toll rates more often?
During the morning and evening peak commute times when traffic congestion is heaviest, more and more drivers are taking advantage of a faster trip in the express toll lane. During the peak commutes, people are willing to pay a higher rate, causing toll rates to rise faster and remain higher for longer. Given the trend we’ve seen of more and more drivers choosing to pay a toll for a more reliable trip, we anticipate that higher toll rates will occur more often during peak periods in the future.

Express toll lanes sign displaying maximum $10.00 roll rate.

Didn’t you say the average toll rate would be between $1 - $4?
The average toll last week was still in this range, the peak toll has been reaching $8 for short periods during peak period commutes. Since opening, we've seen traffic volumes increase in the express toll lanes and as a result the average toll rate has increased during peak periods as more drivers are choosing to use the express toll lanes and pay a toll to have that more reliable trip than in in the regular lanes.

Express toll lanes provide a choice when driver’s time matters most for a more reliable trip – and we’ve seen that commuter’s value of time is higher than we originally anticipated.

  • The average toll rate paid during the AM peak period (5-9 a.m.) southbound I-405 has increased from $1.50 the first week to $3.75 last week.
  • The average toll rate paid during the PM peak period (3-7 p.m.) northbound I-405 has increased from $1.25 the first week to $3 last week.

Why are drivers in the single express toll lane seeing slow speeds at times during peak periods?
We’re seeing that drivers clearly put a high value on their time and are continuing to choose to buy a faster trip even as the rates increase.

In most cases, the higher toll rates are a result of heavy use of the I-405 express toll lane north of SR 522. Since there is only a single express toll lane at this location, there is less capacity to offer and therefore a higher toll rate is needed to manage demand.

While we are tuning the algorithm to help keep traffic moving, it’s important to realize that with the limited capacity in the single lane section there will be times when the demand is too high and speeds will drop below 45 mph for short periods. Our goal with any adjustment is to improve reliability and driver’s trip in the express toll lane.

Is WSDOT planning to raise the maximum toll rate above $10?
This is not WSDOT’s decision to make, and we have not asked for the maximum toll rate to be raised. The Washington State Transportation Commission is responsible for setting toll rates has set the range from 75 cents to $10 on I-405. WSDOT will regularly report to the Commission on the overall performance of the express toll lanes and when the maximum $10 toll rate is reached.

Did I just get charged $10 for every toll sign that I passed?
The answer to this one is no. This question just keeps on coming back – you always pay the price you see when you enter and you will only be charged one rate per trip. The signs may show different rates for different destinations, but you never need to add these rates together. If the rates go up while you are driving, you’ll still pay the original rate you saw when you got in. The rates are for any point up to and including the listed destination – in other words once you pass one of the listed destinations you pay the rate for next destination on the sign you saw when you entered.


Helena said...

The extortion toll lane experiment has been the biggest mistake in transportation history. No where else in the country would they exploit the public by putting a toll lane instead of adding much needed expansion thus forcing people out of the toll lane by charging $10. WSDOT needs to listen to the public and suspend the toll lane ASAP. The new and improved configuration would be 4 general purpose lanes and 1 HOV lane.

Unknown said...

As I'm sure WSDOT is well aware, there is a growing movement to abolish the tolls.
While I do not necessarily agree with that movement, I want to encourage WSDOT to be extremely transparent in sharing their data. This must include everything from detailed graphs of average tolls, total traffic volume YoY, total traffic volume of competing roads YoY, average travel times YoY (both on weekdays and weekends), average trip times YoY both on 405 and competing roads, etc. If you (WSDOT) hope to refute the claims of your opponents, you will have to do so with frequent, detailed, comprehensive, clear metrics. You must publish data weekly to the blog. That's the only way you will be able to demonstrate your detractors are wrong, and you are right.
Unless, of course, your detractors are right.

Michael said...

You keep using I95 in Miami as an example of the success of ETLs claiming that speeds increased 3X after ETL implementation yet a quick Google of the topic shows that it is also an expensive, dangerous, dismal failure. It's like looking into the future if we keep going with this joke. Someone needs to admit that this is NOT an effective way to manage traffic.

-After raising to a $10.50 maximum toll they are considering a $14 maximum.
-After plastic poles were ineffective in keeping lane jumpers from crossing illegally they have permanent barricades. Accidents are a weekly occurrence.
-Their lanes hit 45mph+ only 40-60% of the time during rush hour.
-In September 2015 they charged the maximum toll 19/30 days!

Cu Bong said...

-why WSDOT does post any info about the total of cars using ETLs and how many of those actually PAID for the trips and how many are free with flex pass ? these number will tell the truth of ETLs ? right ? share it to the voters , if WSDOT think this is a successful project and smart idea from WSDOT
-what is your thought on why 24 thousands plus( 24,000 ) Washington drivers signed the petition (stop the tolls) and showed their frustration of ETLs?
-At SR-527 there are 2 big board signs that said " $155.000.000 for widen 405 project from Lynwood to Bellevue ? but why from SR-527 to I5 still has only 3 lanes, in both direction ?
- what is your thoughts on why WSDOT know the facts that the traffic will be more messy for the stretches from SR-527 to I 5 ( because still only has 3 lanes) but keep doing ETLs anyway,
- why WSDOT designed to wasted too much space for the weaves lanes at those exit and entry points at SR-522 and SR-520 SB ? get rid of these weaves lanes and convert it to GPL for better traffic flow ? don't tell us it is for safety , why you designed exit/entry points at 85th SB just dash lines and working perfectly, it does not need weave lane. ?

Joe Ferguson said...


Long time reader, first time commenter - first, I appreciate your willingness to post and respond to driver concerns. I've seen a lot of negative comments on here, and you respond to each one (even if it's just to post the "official statement").

My issue is with one piece of propaganda that I see pop up when facing critics of HOT lanes. "Adding lanes doesn't solve traffic problems." Yes, it does - and even if that fix is "only temporary," it's WSDOT's duty. Yes - we need long-term solutions, but these are things like Light Rail Expansion, Park&Ride, Carpool advocacy, etc. Right now, the vast majority of your revenue base (your customers - drivers paying car tabs and gas taxes who CAN'T use transit for various reasons) are telling you that they aren't happy with this service.

While we wait for other transit projects to come online, we need solutions that work TODAY. Adding general travel capacity is a future-proof investment. The lanes you add now will still be usable when Light Rail expansions reach the Eastside and beyond, giving commuters more options. The laws of physics are simple - when pressure (speed) remains constant, a larger pipe (more lanes) can move more (cars) in the same amount of time.

Your data may be telling you one thing - but we have to face the reality of the PR problem: there is an overwhelming sense of outrage among the driving public over this project. People aren't "adjusting" - they are boiling over, altering their commutes to surface streets, cheating the HOV lanes as acts of "civil disobedience." I've read the reports, looked at the data...I'm not convinced that HOT / ETL is the right choice for I-405 based on my personal experience and observations on the road every day. The upcoming legislative session will see what the future holds.

If we need HOT / ETL to keep Carpool and transit reliable, so be it - but it's time to work on damage control. Add another general lane, relax the 3+ restriction, and edit tolling times to MAKE PEOPLE FEEL BETTER ABOUT THE SYSTEM. Nobody likes paying twice for roads (tax + toll), but being more reasonable and making a broad effort toward improving EVERYONE'S experience is in both our and WSDOT's best interest.

And keep answering the public - it helps, even if we still seem angry.

Helena said...

Representative Harmsworth is having a press conference tommarrow at the University of Washington Bothell campus in regards to multiple bills to introduce changes to the 405 hot lanes. His most pro dominate bill basically gives back a general purpose lane from Bellevue to Lynnwood in both directions, it opens the lanes to all traffic between 7pm-5am with no charge and it removed a lot of the restrictive striping.

Jeff Gray said...

I love how they think this means the toll lane is popular. That is not the case. What you have done is INCREASE congestion in the GP lanes to the point that the rich folks will pay $20 round trip to get to work. What W$DOT has done is poison the well and then sell us $10 bottled water.

The petition will break 25k signatures this afternoon, Harmsworth is introducing legislation and the general populace is ready to break out the torches and pitchforks. The system is coming down, W$DOT...we just hope that those responsible are fired for the pain they have caused us. I for one will NEVER vote for any transportation package while 1) the tolls still exist 2) Craig Stone and Lynn Peterson are still employed.

Helena said...

Craig Stone and Lynn Peterson need to step down and new management needs to be installed to repair the damage they have done. WSDOT needs to admit that these toll lanes were the biggest mistake in transportation history. The tolls need to be suspended ASAP; the new and improved configuration would be 4 general purpose lanes and 1 HOV lane. The public is angry as hell and we are gaining more signatures by the day 25,000 and counting!

Anonymous said...

As of last night, the WSDOT data being posted to and broadcast for GPS navigation devices like Nuvi is still not correct.

I am assuming the data is coming from the same source, but if it isnt, please fix it in both places.

The problem: People trying to avoid the GTG parking lot we call 405 no longer get accurate information about the GPL lanes. Instead of showing congestion data it appears to be showing "all's fine" most of the time, with few exceptions. (AKA... unicorns and rainbows)...

I would give you a photo where the traffic on 405, with a web page and my GPS are both in it show how horribly wrong the data is, but alas, there is no 'upload photo here'. I have reported this issue several times before.

Any chance you might use some of that $10 rich people lane money to return the data service we used to have access to... that helped us avoid adding more congestion... pretty please...

To reproduce the problem... just commute on 405, hit the horrible traffic... pull up the web page for your location and look back and forth between the page and the big huge image out that glass screen called your windshield... remember that if you are the driver, you should let someone else reproduce this problem... no texting/surfing and driving... oh wait.. in this case, the car probably won't be moving much... go ahead... (no endorsed as a safe driving practice)

Anonymous said...

More interesting information on this project: Did WSDOT take away a lane on I-405 for the express toll lanes?


"In 2003-05 we voted on a nickel package, all the material put out by WSDOT at the time was a part of the selling point of that package," Harmsworth said. "We were going to have four general-purpose lanes in each direction on I-405.

"Now (the) DOT is claiming that was [an auxiliary lane], but all the material that was put out on the nickel package that we voted on ... indicated it was a general purpose lane," he added.

That nickel package was a 5-cent gas tax used to raise money for transportation projects. The Kirkland Nickel Project was among those funded by the tax and included widening I-405 through Kirkland, where Harmsworth took his photos.

According to a September 2006 WSDOT document called "I-405 Kirkland Nickel Project - Stage 1 Construction," the agency used funds from the Nickel Tax to widen I-405 in order to add a general purpose lane on the right — a fourth general purpose lane.

"Once construction is completed, there will be four general purpose lanes and one HOV lane in each direction," the 2006 WSDOT document states.

"The reason [WSDOT now] is calling it an auxiliary lane is because the federal statute says they cannot remove general purpose lanes and convert them to HOT lanes…they have to add an additional lane to the freeway [to do that]," Harmsworth alleged.

(My comment WOW... say it isn't so... WSDOT is violating federal transportation laws with its implementation of GDG... oh and using funds designated for a widening the GPL lanes to instead to fund the GTG project... nice... I hope that someone steps down... or maybe goes to jail. This project smells like payola is happening at least with the Texas processing firm.)

Anonymous said...

Hey... the document even has nice pictures that show what 4 GPLs and a single GTG/HOV lane look like. Its amazingly clear and not what they delivered. Check it out:

This was the 'Kirkland Nickel Project' approved and funded with tax payer dollars...the one everyone expected would be done...

Below are some of the highlights from that plan to reduce congestion...

I like that they made it clear that there would be an additional GPL and gave a clear description and graphic to eliminate all doubt and chance of confusion that the money would be used to add additional capacity... not a rich people lane (GDG). So either there was a misappropriation of funds... or... they violated the federal laws on the implementation of GTG... either way, someone needs to vacate their office.


▪ A northbound general-purpose lane will be
constructed from the I-405 and NE 70th Street
interchange to the I-405 and NE 124th Street

▪ A southbound general-purpose lane will be
constructed from the I-405 and SR 522 interchange to
the I-405 and SR 520 interchange;

▪ I-405 at the NE 116th Street interchange will be
reconstructed, realigned, and reconfigured;
Other features of the project include:

▪ Interchange improvements will be made to NE 85th
Street and NE 116th Street;

▪ Stormwater management facilities will be constructed
to provide water quality treatment and detention and
conveyance system upgrades;

▪ Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) will be implemented
during the project to incorporate the elements of
mobility, safety, environment, and aesthetics
throughout the project; and

▪ Measures will be implemented that will avoid or
minimize impacts or compensate for unavoidable
effects to the environment.

What is a general-purpose lane?
General-purpose travel lanes, in
contrast to high-occupancy
vehicle (HOV) lanes, have no
restrictions on the number of
vehicle passengers.

Wolfgang Kaehler said...

I have been traveling all over the world and have had an interest how other countries and cities solved their traffic problems. What the DOT did with the HOV lanes on 405 is poorly designed. Going north, cutting down the regular traffic lanes to 3 lanes just before the merging traffic from 520 enters 405 is a poor design and causes a huge traffic jam even on the weekend. I am avoiding 405 as much as possible. I assume that Kirkland is getting a lot more traffic on the streets since the toll lanes were established and 405 is a mess.

DarrylP said...

As a regular user of 405 to get my daughter to her sports practice in Bothell, I was skeptical of the tolling lanes at first. Pre-express, we used to use the carpool lanes (with two people) for free, but frequently found them to be slower than the main lanes. Now we use a flex-pass and pay to get there in 38-42 minutes rather than 38,45,52,60,75,90+ minutes. I.e., in some completely random amount of time. The lack of randomness is what I appreciate - practice times are fixed, before we could leave an hour ahead and feel safe, but that got bumped to 1.5 hours just to be sure.

I'm not rich, but we were at the point of having to give up either her coach or her entire sport. I'll gladly pay to get there on time. Keep them exactly like they are.

Joe Ferguson said...

Darryl - yours is one of the first POSITIVE comments I've seen.

I was the opposite of you - optimistic when they were announced; quickly changed my tune when they opened.

At first I thought "cool - a choice, and getting even with carpool cheats!" And then...

Double lines EVERYWHERE...groups of exits you can't even access, with WSP lying in wait if you stray over a double line. Traffic so congested in general lanes that you can't even GET TO the lanes during peak, much less get out of them to reach your exit. Thank goodness for kind-hearted drivers who sometimes let you in and out!

Honestly, after riding up and down I-405 every day before and after the HOT lanes, I think a better solution would have been to add a general purpose lane. We've let 405 sit unchanged while exponential population growth occurred all around Lake Washington. The HOT lane is a neat idea, but it needs to be bundled with an additional general lane to truly be effective.

It's like we got half of the solution - and even if it wasn't WSDOT's intent, public opinion views the HOT lanes in a negative light because "increased capacity" didn't happen - we got a toll lane option, stricter carpool restrictions, and poor entry / exit striping. It makes the whole thing look like a cash grab.

It's why I said above that this is now a PR problem. WSDOT needs to make a few concessions to make more drivers happy, or risk politicians using HOT / GTG anger to get votes, jeopardizing the future of the system. If I'm honest, I'd sign on right now to legislation that addresses sensible management ideas:

- Return HOV to 2+ at all times and remaining open to all on off-peak (like the Renton leg of 405)
- Limit HOT to 1 lane only. Adjust pricing as needed to keep HOV / HOT flowing - buses can have the option of shoulder use during peak times (they already do this on the Woodinville leg).
- Provide at least 1 additional general travel lane for ALL of us.
- Move toll servicing IN STATE - so our money goes back into stimulating our economy and providing jobs locally

We all know I-405 needs to be 4 General +1 HOV lane all the way. Get that done, then invest in getting light rail up and running between Everett / Redmond / Bellevue / Seattle - and give corporations incentives to encourage employees to use it.

I'll rarely if ever be able to use the HOT lanes that I helped pay for - and no longer have a carpool option. This is the primary source of anger for folks. HOT isn't a long term traffic solution - adding capacity (preferably via a transit option) is. Until we can do that, we need lane capacity to keep things moving.

The "improved or similar travel times" don't take into account traffic that relocated to local streets. There are horror stories of traffic jams in small towns all over this blog. WSDOT needs to go back to the drawing board on this one - I dread the day they complete the Renton leg if the same logic is used. The armageddon of 167 will make 522 look like a kid's birthday party.

WSDOT said...

Thank you for your feedback as we work to make this system work efficiently for all.

WSDOT said...

Wolfgang – We understand that the shift from one express toll lane to two is a point of congestion along the corridor. Our project team is working to evaluate how this bottleneck can be improved. Thank you for your feedback.

Helena said...

WSDOT should be ashamed of itself for there constant lies, propaganda and for cheating the public out of much needed general purpose lanes. The public is angry as hell and we are not as stupid as you think we are.

Daily405commuter said...

I commute between Lynnwood and Bellevue twice a day every week day via public transit. Since the toll lanes opened my commute has been reduced by about 20min each way. I see the toll lanes doing what they were meant to do and that is free up the hov lanes which were previously going as slow as the general purpose lanes, thereby benefiting those of us that regularly commute on this main route. I'd like to see more data about commuting patterns for the folks sitting in the general purpose lanes. Where are they headed and how can we get the next transportation funding packages (e.g. ST3) to meet their needs? Until then, how can carpooling programs and public transportation be improved to get some of them out of the general purpose lanes?

Helena said...

This is probably a planted statement from WSDOT lol

Art said...

I like the ETL lanes and I hope that WSDOT won't make significant changes to appease politicians looking for cheap publicity. It would be great if someone started a petition to support the ETL lanes.

People should stop complaining about $10 tolls and stop expecting to use the lanes alone for cheap. The lanes are for carpools and emergencies, not for your everyday commute. Sure, everyone would love to drive freely for 75c but the lanes won't fit everyone. If there were no tolls on the lane, you wouldn't be able to use them as SOV at all and $10 toll is still cheaper than $100+ fine for carpool violation.

One thing missing from the lanes today is the information about what you're buying with your toll. Everyone thinks that the higher the toll is the more time they are saving which is not true. It would be great if the ETL signs could show information about estimated time saved in addition to the toll rate. The speeds and distances are already in the system to calculate this. I'm sure there won't be many takers to pay $5-$10 to save 1 min when ETL lanes slow down which would help to manage the speeds in ETL lanes. At the same time more people would use the lanes when there is unexpected traffic in GP lanes in the middle of day if they knew that would save time.

Helena said...

If WSDOT puts a toll lane on the Renton to Bellevue portion it would be the dumbest decision in transportation history as this stretch is in dire need of general purpose lanes not toll lanes. By the time the southern section is built the toll lane concept will be a distant memory lol.

Jeff Gray said...

"We understand that the shift from one express toll lane to two is a point of congestion along the corridor. Our project team is working to evaluate how this bottleneck can be improved."

We already have the solution, W$DOT....scrap the system and fire Lynn "the liar" Peterson and Craig Stone. We'll take care of the in, voting Marko Liias, Judy Clibborn, Jay Inslee...etc out of office.

Jeff Gray said...

Hey Daryl, that's so nice for you and and your daughter. Try slugging it out to work every day when tolls will total $20 for the round trip.

The people are going put this system, and the people who put it in place, out of business. But so glad your daughter gets to practice at the expense of the thousands of working stiffs whose lives are being destroyed by this debacle. Are you seriously that selfish or a W$DOT plant?

Unknown said...

Please remove the toll lanes!! They are making the traffic on 405 so much worse. Now I have to choose between spending less time with my children because of the added commute time on the way home by using the regular lanes or not being able to afford other things for my family. I commute between Mukilteo and Bellevue and there are ZERO bus options for daily commuters. Please remove the toll lanes immediately. Our tax dollars have already paid for these roads once, so we shouldn't have to pay for them again!

Anonymous said...

I heard my first quasi positive feedback on GTG... it went something like this "Ever since the GTG program has gone in, the traffic is sooooo bad that I am willing to pay to get out of the congestion, so I am glad as a non-commuter I have that option"

So it must be working... we have made the traffic so bad that some people are willing to pay to get out of it and happy they can.

Helena said...

Judy Clibborn is getting the kick backs from the Texas company. She is a representative that is out for herself and not for the needs of her constituents who have unamously have voiced opposition against the extortion lanes on I405. I think we all should remember her on Election Day.

Bellevue Edmonds commuter said...

If enters the Northbound lane at NE 6th St at 3:00 PM (which I WAS doing) the rate has jumped in just the past two weeks from $0.75 every day that it was initially to between $3.50 and 5$ if one is going the entire way to I-5. Why I am asking is this: there is virtually no traffic in the express lanes at that point; but when one goes the extra mile or so to the next entryway area (north of the 520 interchange), the rate drops there to usually to $1.25 to $1.75 range for that same trip. Why is it that I have to pay somewhere around $3+ just to travel one mile that is completely free of congestion? You are incentivizing my joining the mess, bottleneck/choke point that is the 520 interchange. It seems foolish in the extreme to punish people who are attempting to avoid the worst choke point of the entire commute. I have a further question: I am able to travel the entire distance to I-5 in the express lanes without ever slowing down below 50 MPH. I thought the algorithm was based on maintaining a minimum speed of 47 MPH. Is that not the case?

Helena said...

This is another planted statement by WSDOT lol

WoodinvilleCommuter said...

The positive comments are not planted, the toll lanes give you choices. Choices to get home in time to take your kids to their sports practices or evening concerts on time. Choices to make it on time to that important client meeting. Yes there is a cost, but sometimes it's worth it. At least I now have that option which was not available before. Yes, the price is a little steep on some days but the intent was never to provide some kind of cheap service for all. The intent was to free up space for buses and carpools, and it is working for that purpose. See the latest article in the Everett Herald referencing the time saved by Sound Transit buses. All the effort spent on bad mouthing the toll lanes would be much better spent in support of funding an additional lane from Bothell to Lynnwood, something that would really help.

Debbie Baxter said...

My concern is the dotted entry/exit section going north right before exit 26 going to Bothell/Mill Creek. It is on a curve making it hard to see traffic conditions ahead while moving from the toll lane to gp. The toll lane slowed and suddenly stopped and the other lane's traffic went faster making it difficult to merge and avoid hitting the car ahead.

WSDOT said...

Daily405commuter – We are happy that your commute is improving and the lanes are working well. WSDOT’s plans for I-405 improvements can be found on our website: We will continue to encourage rideshare and carpool options for drivers and evaluate options for more efficient trips in general purpose lanes as well. Thank you for your positive feedback!

WSDOT said...

Art, thank you for your comments. We appreciate your feedback as it is a common request that we’ve heard. In the meantime, we hope to get live toll rates posted on our website soon to help drivers make more informed decisions in using the ETLs.

WSDOT said...

We understand that this transition has been a frustrating one for many drivers, especially those who are making shorter commutes along the corridor. We are working on how to improve accessibility of the lanes and traffic conditions for both ETL and general purpose lane drivers.

Anonymous said...

@Joe Ferguson - Thanks for your post. I was also optimistic with the program initially.

Now I am disappointed that it has had such a negative impact on our commuters that I am hoping our representatives can get it fixed.

I am kind of shocked by the word smithing games that were played by WSDOT to try to avoid saying a GPL lane was used to make the HOT/HOV lane and the myriad of other less than above board activities.

In general I support the work to build and maintain our roads, in some pretty challenging conditions, but this GTG project has so far been detrimental to the majority of commuters and the surrounding areas.

Kevin Y said...

Like so many other area residents, to me, the changes made to create a toll lane on 405 appear to be... in a word... nonsensical. Perhaps there was a plan that made sense here..once upon a time...but the result achieved is clearly regressive and should be scrapped. I truly hope that people lost their jobs over this blunder. In the private sector, a company that performed this poorly would be headed for bankruptcy. I don't know why the voting public tolerates such incompetence in the public sector. People pouring precious public money down the drain.

Kevin Y said...

Yes the toll lane implementation on 405 north of Bellevue is.... in a word... nonsensical. It's hard to believe that millions of dollars of public money were spent on a plan that was so untested, spurious and illogical. When the results achieved are this bad, I hope there is an investigation to see if bribes, expense paid vacations or other forms of illegal incentives were involved. When things turn out this bad, it's hard to understand how rational people could make such poor decisions unless some other consideration was involved. At the very least, there are some people working at WaDOT that truly need to find another line of work. Perhaps ask the most senior leaders at WaDOT, 'who has an appetite for an encore to the 405 toll lane project?' The general public is footing the bill here in more ways than one...and we all feel like we've been taken to the cleaners.

Helena said...

The best and only solution to fix this mess and to repair the distrust by the public would be to go along with what representatives Harmsworth and Andy Hill have proposed as it makes the most sense. Harmsworth's assistant emailed me the proposed changes;
His most prominent bill basically gives back a general purpose lane from Bellevue to Lynnwood in both directions, it opens the lanes to all traffic between 7pm-5am with no charge, and it removes a lot of the restrictive striping.
This would make a huge difference and is a compromise for everyone. If WSDOT actually cared about all drivers they would do this. At this point I have no faith what so ever in WSDOT. Let's hope the bill gets passed so we can end the biggest mistake in transportation history.

WSDOT said...

Thanks @WoodinvilleCommuter! Drivers value choice, just as they value their time. We appreciate your positive comments.

Unknown said...

I've just heard the details of these toll lanes and they sound like yet another way the wealthy ensure that they are not inconvenienced by all the minions(the rest of us). What an ill-conceived idea! It adds complexity to our already chaotic roads. I'm so glad we've left King County and don't have to deal with these toll lanes daily. I'm sorry I didn't hear about the plan sooner so I could have helped avoid the wasted resources that went into developing this silly plan.

Bob McConnell said...

Terrible idea, terribly implemented. Best way to succeed now is to shut it down and then enforce regular HOV lanes and to provide some express public transit.

Jim B said...

This afternoon when I was getting onto the toll lanes southbound at NE 128th I saw that the sign for northbound said "HOV only" instead of showing a toll. I don't recall ever hearing that this would happen. Could you explain what the criteria is for this and how it works?

Pat B. said...

From the blog:
"While we are tuning the algorithm to help keep traffic moving, it’s important to realize that with the limited capacity in the single lane section there will be times when the demand is too high and speeds will drop below 45 mph for short periods."

Not sure how close you're observing actual traffic flow but I've had several commutes now where toll lane traffic moves as slow or slower than the non-toll lanes of I-405.
On a recent trip (12/4 NB between 4:15 and 5:15) I came to a dead stop 5 times and wondered why I was paying $7+ to go slower than people in the free lanes. I felt completely ripped off.

Pat B.

Tucker White said...

405Commuter here. I manage a team of commuter's that because of our industry, travel alone, 90% of the time. Like many of us on this blog, it is also important for us to arrive on time when meeting with our clients. My career has been built on problem solving skills, and our companies need to address commuting problems is what brought me here. I was unfamiliar with the developments with this system before arriving to this blog, but now, thanks to the WSDOT's willingness to at least host the discussion, I feel like I have a good grasp of whats going on here. I am posting this as an invitation to any party that is willing to correct or clarify my admittedly narrow understanding of the situation.

This is what I think I understand to be the main points.

1. The WSDOT was tasked with the challenge of improving the traffic flows on I-405.

2. WSDOT's solution included the addition of a tolling system, which seems to toll users an amount that increases with the volume of traffic. (this appeals to the department and provides a longer term solution for traffic flows for the users)

3. WSDOT's solution also included the addition of a general purpose lane, at points along the interstate to aid in the improvement of the traffic. (this appeals to the voters or users as an immediate solution to traffic congestion)

What we have observed.

1. Traffic flows have not improved since the implementation of WSDOT's system.

2. The users of this interstate and its representatives are frustrated that although the system was "sold" as having an additional general purpose lane installed, that never happened.

3. Traffic congestion has in fact worsened since the implementation of the system.

What we would like to know.

1. Is what I've just stated accurate? If not, who disagrees, and what needs clarifying?

2. What are WSDOT's plans to improve the CURRENT traffic congestion that didn't exist before system implementation?

3. As time goes by, and we continue to check in and see if any solutions have yet been provided by the WSDOT, should we assume that the number of commuters are going to be tasked with need to develop individualized and custom commuting routes that AVOID using the interstate as a logical trade off to the costs and time constraints presented by the WSDOT's current toll scheduled?

4. Will any data collected by the WSDOT be reflected to show the decrease of traffic congestion reflected directly by individuals and companies like ours drifting away from using I405 at all, or will future decreases in traffic congestion due to commuters using alternate routes be attributed to the WSDOT's current system's "effectiveness."

5. Does the WSDOT have any solutions for the majority of us that are raising families and on very tight budgets, but must commute alone, in regards to budgeting the costs associated with the current toll schedules?

6. And finally, what approximately is the minimum dollars per day/week/month, EXTRA dollar should we expect to earn, and integrate into our current budgets in order to not get behind with our other tax and bill obligations AND still be able to rely on travel times we had gotten used to before WSDOT instituted their system?

I would like to thank anyone at the WSDOT, or elsewhere, in advance, that can clarify these questions, and help us gain a better understanding of an aspect that's very important to many of us. Feel free to email me directly or respond here on the blog and Happy Holidays!

WSDOT said...

Kevin Y, it’s far too soon to determine the ETLs a success or failure at this point. We ask for your patience in this transition period. Thank you for your comments.

WSDOT said...

Unknown – We have data to support that drivers of all income levels are willing to pay a toll in order to get where they need to go – picking up a child from daycare or trying to make an appointment on time. We hope that by the next time you visit and drive I-405, you'll experience a more efficient trip.

WSDOT said...

Unfortunately, Bob, converting the system to HOV lanes again would only be moving backwards. The express toll lanes offer a solution to congestion and population growth that the Puget Sound region is experiencing. We ask for your patience as we work through this crucial transition period.

WSDOT said...

Hi, Jim. Happy to clarify. The HOV Only override is used in the case of a lane-blocking accident or another occasion which hinders our ability to accurately calculate toll rates at that time. The override should only last until traffic becomes more manageable. Thank you for understanding.

WSDOT said...

Pat – I'm sorry you felt ripped off. When the lanes get more congested, the toll rates tend to rise. For this reason, a higher toll rate doesn't necessarily guarantee a faster trip. Where did the slowdown occur? That information is most valuable to us in determining what improvements can be made to the corridor.

Anonymous said...

@Tucker White - I think there is an error in your post. There were two projects, one to add the GPL lane along 405 funded in 2006 and a second GTG project approved in 2011 (to have been completed in 2014, deadline missed).

A stipulation on the federal funding for GTG was that no GPL would be converted to toll lanes. That was why the WSDOT renamed the previously verly clearly identified GPL's to something else to try to avoid running afoul of the GTG federal stipulations. This is one of the reasons that the traffic patterns changed 'overnight' when GTG was turned on... we lost a GPL.

The net effect of this is that not only were 2 person carpools ineligible for free use of the HOV lanes and using the GPLs, but we saw an increase of 33% usage of the remaining GPLs when the forth GPL traffic was pushed into the already full 3 GPLs.

There is no question the WSDOT knew this was going to happen. The documents that were used to justify the 4th GPL clearly spelled out the need for the expansion. Everyone working on that project knew the effects would be detrimental to the remaining GPLs (or they don't understand traffic problems enough to warrant a job with WSDOT. This means that it was a known problem that congestion for the majority of commuters was going to be worse. That didn't seem to stop the project.

Yes, having an HOV/HOT lane that moves at higher speeds helps, but the reality is that we are creating systems to bypass the real problem... significant congestion. Whats worse is that our 'solutions' are making the problem worse, and that there is no way the WSDOT could not have known the impact this would have along 405. In fact, they anticipated it enough to create a communications campaign to 're-educate 500,000 daily commuters', with a hope that after 6 months everyone would adapt to the 'new normal' of commuting so bad that people will be willing to pay to get out of it.

What we really need is a way to reduce congestion across the board so we don't need special solutions. Where the name 'express lanes' are not needed because they are all express lanes. After all, that is what our highway system is supposed to be... the infrastructure to help us support the express transportation of people and goods.

When people point out the real congestion problems, we often get answers like 'yes we know that is a problem but we can't fix it' and instead we get things like 'GTG'... a way for the 'rich folks' to bypass the 'common folk' in the parking lot we call 405... oh and we get told that it reduces congestion.... which it does for a small percentage of people... for the rest, we know the truth of slogging through its wake.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Bob, converting the system to HOV lanes again would only be moving backwards. The express toll lanes offer a solution to congestion and population growth that the Puget Sound region is experiencing. We ask for your patience as we work through this crucial transition period.

Converting GPLs to tolls was also moving backwards, but it didn't prevent it from happening.

Helena said...

WSDOT should be ashamed of itself for cheating the public out of much needed general purpose lanes. It is very clear that the 4th lane was a general purpose lane and WSDOT lied and changed the name to desive the public. Let's hope representatives Harmsworth and Andy Hill suspend the extortion lanes ASAP. The new and improved configuration would be 4 general purpose lanes and 1 HOV lane.

Anonymous said...

Here is a phrase I hear that is complete rubish:
The express toll lanes offer a solution to congestion and population growth

1. They do not address congestion, the create a way to bypass it for SOME people.
2. They do not address future population growth congestion. The GPLs will become even more congested as population grows.

I would love to see the math that proves me wrong on this.

Having 'express lanes' like those in downtown do help reduce congestion. They provide extra lanes during peak periods that can be leveraged in different ways during the day. Where as GTG actually reduces capacity during peak periods.

There is no proof that reducing capacity during peak periods will improve congestion. It just doesn't make any logical sense... and in my opinion is the reason so many people are calling the statements outright lies.

Mikhail Bajenov said...

Thank you very much for creating Express Lanes. It made my life so much easier. I am not rich, however I value my time much more then several extra dollars per month. (It seems to me, though, that some people here have plenty of time to write repeated posts - I assume they enjoy wasting their time while sitting in traffic :)
My suggestion: to set MINIMUM SPEED LIMIT for Express Lanes, since some people tend to drive there at the same speed as a general purpose lanes traffic, and it's impossible to outstrip them without crossing the double-line.
Happy Holiday season everybody!

WSDOT said...

Already responded to this comment yesterday. Please see below:

"Mikhail, glad to hear you are loving the ETLs! We are so happy that they are working well for you and bringing reliability back to your trips on I-405. You can read up about our upcoming projects on our website:

Speed limits are enforced by Washington State Patrol and are not in our control. Double white lines were reinforced in order to secure more space between faster moving traffic in the ETLs and the general purpose lanes. We will look into further reinforcements should we see an opportunity for improvement. Thank you for your feedback!"

WSDOT said...

Debbie, thanks for voicing your concerns. We are still monitoring our access points to determine if/where improvements could be made. WSDOT places drivers' safety as a top priority, so thank you for sharing your feedback.

kman said...

I just got off the phone with a very rude GTG rep. My company received 3 toll bills (w/ the added $2 fee) for trucks that have GTG stickers in the windshield. I was basically told it was my problem the automatic billing system was down. She was not happy to credit the $2 back and take the toll fee out of the account.

I am irritated I had to pay the $15 to get a flex pass so my family can utilize the lanes for carpool. Rarely do I use the toll lanes when they are not free (carpool). I made the decision to use the toll lanes from Bothell to Bellevue as I was meeting a friend in Renton (on a Saturday). My rate was $1.25 to enter in Bothell. I checked my account and not only was my entry point incorrect (says I entered in Bellevue where the lane ends instead of entering in Bothell), I was charged $3.50 for using the lanes. I distinctly remember it was $1.25 because I called my friend to complain I was paying that much to use the lane! The rep told me that I would be charged the highest toll rate listed during my "trip" down the toll lanes. I told her that was contrary to the information in the videos WADot emailed me prior to the toll lanes opening (which I emailed to the entire company to watch) which showed you will pay the rate when you enter the lanes, no matter if the tolls along the route are higher. She said she knew nothing about the WADot videos and whatever the highest toll rate is showing is what will be charged. Again, totally contrary to the videos that were released prior to the opening of the toll lanes.

On a bright note, I only had to wait 12 minutes on hold to be told that none of this is GTG's problem.

On a more serious note, how many people do not check their accounts? How many people blindly pay their toll bills without actually looking/reading their bill? It is a great way for the state to rake in money.

WSDOT said...

Vince, You're right, we won't be able to build enough capacity to keep up with population growth in the region (+1 million people in the next 25 yrs), and building a reversible express lane on I-405 isn't possible given the space constraints. That's why we developed the I-405 Master Plan, which identified over 100 improvement projects on arterials, park and rides, transit centers, vanpools, and other transportation elements throughout the corridor. After years of study, we found that express toll lanes could move 30 percent more vehicles and people compared to building a regular lane. Having a free flow option moves more vehicles and people overall than just adding stop and go lanes, which unmanaged lanes would shortly become.

Helena said...

Everyone would be better off if we stuck to the original master plan that would add 2 general purpose lanes in each direction. This was on the way to being implemented as there were 4 general purpose lanes in various spots on I405 from 85th street to 124th street. WSDOT lied and cheated the public out of much needed general purpose lanes by changing there name from general purpose lanes to "add drop" lanes. We would all be better off if the toll was suspended to just 1 lane not 2 as we don't need 2 toll lanes in each direction, what a waste of public money. Let's hope Representatives Andy Hill and Harmsworth get this mess fixed ASAP

WSDOT said...

kman, we're sorry you had an unpleasant experience. We expect that all of our customers are treated with empathy and respect when speaking with anyone at our customer service centers. I also apologize that you received misinformation from the representative. The videos have the correct information: you will be charged the amount shown when you enter the toll lanes. Unfortunately, we can't help you with your specific account issues on this blog. However, we do encourage all our customers to monitor their accounts. Again, please accept our apologies.

kathymichelle said...

I have a question regarding the exiting the toll lanes - say I enter the I-405 with -2- people versus the -3- required. I get on at 85th and enter at the required express on-ramp. It says .75 to exit off at 124th ST. I however exit off at 128th ST.
Am I charged the higher amount or does the reader understand that I am exiting at 128th and therefore charge me the 124th ST exit pricing versus the SR522 pricing?
Just curious since it's a battle to get over to the 124th ST exit and my home is actually closer to the 128th ST exit and therefore easier and not that much further from the 124th ST exit.
However, if I am getting charged the higher amount - I will reconsider my drive and exits.
Thanks in advance for your answer.

Fletch said...

What about providing alternate means of transportation that are reliable and available around the clock?
Choosing to benefit the few that are willing to pay the extortion rate to ride on toll lanes that were built with our tax money is not a proper solution.
Fix the public transportation system and I am sure that a lot of people will see the benefit of leaving their cars at home or on the Park and Ride lots.

WSDOT said...

@Kathymichelle, when you exit at 128th Street, you’ll be charged the rate listed for SR 522. Because you are exiting after 124th Street, you will be paying the next toll rate listed. Let us know if you have further questions!

WSDOT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WSDOT said...

@Joe Ferguson, thank you for your comments. We want to get back to as many people as we can via all communications channels. For some regional context, as stated above already, over 1 million people are moving to the Puget Sound Region in the next 25 years, that’s almost the size of two cities of Portland. Quick population growth is a great sign for our economy, but it creates some big challenges for infrastructure and transportation. Regarding building general purpose lanes as a temporary solution, while it may seem counter intuitive, adding general purpose lanes will not solve our congestion issues. I suggest checking out this article: It discusses this issue and explains why additional general purpose lanes are not a wise investment for traffic solutions. We’ve said it a lot, but we anticipate a six-month to a year adjustment period for the new lanes. We plan to see improvements to traffic flow as drivers adjust, and we address corridor's problem areas through incremental improvements. Again, thank you for commenting. We appreciate the feedback.

Helena said...

This is another ridiculous statement by WSDOT to justify the extortion toll lanes. To say that I405 from Hwy 522 to I5 would be better of with only 2 general purpose lanes and only 1 toll lane is just plain stupid. Everyone would be better off if the toll was suspended ASAP. The new and improved configuration would be 4 general purpose lanes and an HOV lane. The new lanes added from Hwy 522 north to I5 need to be general purpose lanes as promised in the original master plan the WSDOT denies existed, just like they lied about the general purpose lanes they took away from 85th to 124th and an important merge lane after hwy520 which is now a disaster. Let's hope representatives Harmsworth and Andy Hill fix the biggest mistake in transportation history.

WSDOT said...

Fletch, thank you for your feedback. We agree that increased transit options would aid the improvement of the corridor. The express toll lanes are a part of the I-405 Master Plan, which identifies over 100 improvement projects on arterials, park and rides, transit centers, vanpools, and other transportation elements throughout the corridor.

Chris Brown said...


WSDOT said...

Hey Chris, are you talking about the 520 bridge? Here’s where you can find those set rates:

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