Tuesday, July 19, 2016

#405ETL: A lot can happen in nine months

By Jennifer Rash

We all know a lot can happen in nine months, including over 11 million vehicles traveling in the I-405 express toll lanes. What's more, tolls collected from those trips will help fund new I-405 capacity sooner than we thought.

Here are some other nine-month trends:
  1. More vehicles are moving through the express toll lanes than ever before. Our numbers from the spring show the express toll lanes are now carrying more vehicles on weekdays from 5 a.m. – 7 p.m. than they did in the winter operating 24/7. We're also seeing that when people choose to drive in the express toll lanes, it frees up space in the regular lanes.
  2. Travel time savings are up, even in the regular lanes. All lanes of I-405 are moving more vehicles at faster speeds than last year, though the express toll lanes are providing 40 percent faster trips than the general purpose lanes. The exception? Northbound general purpose lanes between SR 522 and I-5, where travel times are three minutes slower than they were last year. We have plans to fix this bottleneck using hard shoulder running (more on that later).
  3. As demand increases, so does the average toll rate. The nine month average is $1.61—up from $1.26 during the initial three months of operations. More drivers are using the lanes, which mean higher rates, especially north of SR 522 where express toll lane capacity is limited to a single lane. However, the most common toll rate during peak hours this spring was still just 75 cents.

  4. We're hitting the $10 max toll more often. Toll rates adjust to keep the express toll lane flowing at 45 miles per hour 90 percent of the time, taking into account volumes in the express toll lanes and the regular lanes. We're seeing frequent $10 maximum tolls at access points between Bothell and Lynnwood, where demand is high and capacity reduces from five lanes to three lanes, creating a bottleneck.

    While we're meeting our 45 mph 90 percent of the time goal, we see speeds drop below 45 mph when drivers enter the express toll lane when it's already at capacity. However, even when the express toll lanes are operating at slower speeds, they are still typically faster than the regular lanes.

  5. Express toll lane revenue is much higher than forecasted. With more drivers choosing the express toll lanes than we predicted, our revenue numbers are nearly three times the original forecast from 2012. There are some key reasons why our original forecast was so off, namely WSDOT is one of the first agencies in the nation to implement lanes that offer both electronic and pay-by-mail options for travelers, offering drivers an option to use the express toll lanes without a pass. In addition, the economy rebounded quicker than expected – creating new jobs and increasing traffic.

    The increased revenue is good news for drivers because besides covering our operations and maintenance costs, we're working with the legislature to fund our first reinvestment of your toll dollars in the corridor. The first project that could receive express toll lane funding next year is the Northbound Hard Shoulder Running from SR 527 to I-5 Project. Through this project, we will add additional capacity during the northbound evening peak commute period by opening the northbound shoulder to general purpose traffic.

We'll have more details on this project in an upcoming post.


Jeff Gray said...

Just curious as to when you plan on formally announcing that the toll for 99 tunnel is going to DOUBLE what you claimed it would be?

Unknown said...

Restricting general purpose flow to raise revenue on the backs of working mothers and families struggling to regain the time lost by catastrophic traffic congestion caused by the current configuration is no an equitable nor wise way to find highway projects.

Anon said...

And how much has this project cost the taxpayer, beyond the original 500 Million dollar budget?

Mike Snook said...

an act or instance of extorting.
Law. the crime of obtaining money or some other thing of value by the abuse of one's office or authority.
oppressive or illegal exaction, as of excessive price or interest:
the extortions of usurers.
anything extorted.
Extortion Thats what your toll lanes are nothing but extortion Force someone into a traffic jam charge them excessive fees to get out. I've been using 405 for 32yrs never thought I would see this. WSDOT should be ashamed I am. Hopefully we'll get a governor thats changes this and cleans house on WSDOT

WSDOT said...

By providing the option for drivers to pay for a faster trip, and with the added capacity between Bellevue and Bothell, the general purpose lanes are freed up to allow for faster speeds and lower travel times.

Vince R said...

Its hard to believe any of the stats that are posted when the simple act of timing my trip so clearly says it is not faster.

When something as simple as the commute time is repeated posted as improving and I have to wonder how WSDOT can make this statement without committing fraud.

If that one simple thing that I can measure everyday doesn't match what is posted by WSDOT, how can I believe the less tangible things they publish.

I don't know what your methodologies are for measuring time, but it isn't by driving on the GPLs.

The choke points are still there. The traffic flow is worse now that before the ETLs were put in place, at least for a major part of the road I drive, the demand to use the ETLs only proves that there is something fishy about your stats. If traffic travel times were increasing, there would be no increase in demand to use the ETLs. So please please please, stop trying to sell this mess with stats that do not agree with our daily experience and are self conflicting.

You cannot have both an increase in demand for ETL while also having a decrease in commute times in the GPLs.

Vince R said...

BTW, as the law is written, the funds raised by the ETLs can only be used for maintenance of the ETLs. Using it for any other purpose, including other highway maintenance would be illegal.

When analyzing data like what you posted, you have to ask a few questions:

1. How could you underestimate the demand as much as occurred? Did you not understand the extent of the problem?

2. Why is it we believe it is a success story when more people need to option for ETL if the goal was to improve throughput?

3. What is the cost going to be for fixing the 'mess' caused by the roll-out of GTG? Using the cost estimates for other sections of road that might undergo similar change, this should be in the $1,500,000,000 range, or roughly 3 times the cost to rollout GTG... did GTG raise $1.5 billion dollars which legally could be used for fixing the roads?

Its voting time. Lets continue to replace those in office that either are promoting this fiasco or too lazy to look at the data and ask how we can fix this project, and by fix, I mean really work on fixing the problems. Daily commuters know where the problems are. WSDOT knows where the problems are. When will we get our WSDOT employees to actually belly up to the bar and take on the real problem instead of how to just put money in the coffers. A lie repeated enough times does not make it a truth. GTG has not improved my commute according to the clock in my car and the vehicles sitting in traffic.

Helena said...

These extortion toll lanes have been the biggest mistake in transportation history. They have made traffic much much worse and everyone knows this. Last night I attended David Hablewitzs presentation in the Bellevue library in regards to the toll lanes on I405. The presentation was about the failed extortion toll lanes and about the truth and lies that WSDOT is telling the public. It was great to see candidates there all running for office and they want to do what is right which is doing away with the biggest mistake in transportation history; the failed extortion lanes. After the election things are going to change and we the people will take back what is ours, just like the French stormed the Bastle.

Jeff Gray said...

"By providing the option for drivers to pay for a faster trip, and with the added capacity between Bellevue and Bothell, the general purpose lanes are freed up to allow for faster speeds and lower travel times."

Yet another copy/paste string of nonsense from W$DOT, the most corrupt agency in Washington.

You want to know what else has happened in nine months? We don't go to Bellevue any longer. Or Kirkland. Or Woodinville. Or Bothell. Why? Because it is just not worth the aggravation of navigating the parking lot that 405 has become since the Extortion lanes were put in place.

The average toll rate you cite is utterly laughable. Coming from the north end, my average toll (and I've done the math....real math, not your fantasy land version) is $7.75...for a ONE WAY TRIP. Factor in the return trip, I would be spending ~5k a year to drive on a road my taxes already paid for.

I also laughed out loud at the statement that the travel time north of 522 is only slower by three minutes. Seriously, what color is the sky in your world? On Thursday alone I probably spent at least ten minutes, in total, completely motionless while traveling from 522 to the Alderwood exit. This NEVER happened prior to the Extortion lanes.

Lastly, another thing that greets me each morning now is the gridlock that miraculously appears EXACTLY where the Extortion lanes begin. Oddly enough, pre Extortion lanes, I would never hit a back up until Bothell.

This entire scheme is a complete and utter failure. As Mike mentions above, you should be ashamed. We know you are not, however, as you have proven time and time again this is PURELY about fleecing as much cash as you can from the general populous.

P.S. This is second attempt at posting this so you are obviously filtering negative/fact based comments. I won't hold my breath expecting this to published.

Jeff Gray said...

Direct from Comrade Patty on MyNorthwest.com:

Patty Rubstello, Washington State Department of Transportation’s assistant secretary for tolling, told KIRO 7 the tolls could reach $2.50 during peak hours. That’s double the $1.25 for peak times that a 2014 panel suggested.

WSDOT said...

Jeff, to answer your first comment regarding 99, although a bit off topic for this post, the Transportation Commission hasn’t even begun the toll rate setting process for the tunnel. You might have heard about some studies that we’re doing, but we haven’t made any recommendations yet. We’re still just starting to model what would happen to traffic and collection at a range of different toll rates.

In regards to your second comment, this is the first time we have received it. We welcome open discussion and only filter comments for profanity.

Helena said...

These extortion lanes are the biggest scam and rip off of the public in transportation history. After hearing from David Hablewitzs that the toll lanes are designed to create congestion in general purpose lanes proves what everyone has been saying all along. These extortion toll lanes are designed to create congestion!!! Also it makes me angry that the Texas company only cares about money coming in and they discourage building more general purpose lanes so congestion and toll continues. Wow, what a scam! I can only imagine how much kick back money Judy Clibborn gets from the failed experiment. What a joke. After the election these tolls are coming down and Judy Clibborn and Jay Inslee will be voted out.

Vince R said...

I noticed there was no reply in how both travel times could be better AND ETL tolls are rising. The tolls are governed by how slow the traffic is flowing. You cannot have both unless your admitting to breaking the rules outlined in the legislation.

Prior to GTG, I had on average 4 to 6 good travel days during rush hour a month. After GTG, that is how many I have had in 9 months. There needs to be some truth in the statistics that are being reported.

Since it was rolled out, I have asked well over 300 people what they thought of GTG. So far, 3 people have said that they use it and think it helps there commute. If I worked for WSDOT, I would have stopped there, but I don't, so I asked why. All 3 said basically the same thing. That traffic has gotten so bad since GTG was rolled out that it is the only way they can get to work on time. I would not consider that a positive review if you think about cause and effect.

Of the other 95+% of the people I also asked how they let WSDOT or their representative know about their dissatisfaction with GTG (and trust me that is very politally correct compared to how some people described their feelings). Here were the top 3 answers:
1. No, WSDOT doesn't listen and will not change anything.
2. I don't feel my opinion will make a difference.
3. I am too busy to do that and they won't do anything anyways.

In my entire life, I have never seen a project that has been so despised or hated by so many people I know. I think there will be more backlash at some point for those that are responsible for this project and the representatives that helped sponsor it. Further, if the statistics shown on this blog are an indication of what is being reported to my representations, it is almost criminal in my opinion and someone should be held accountable for it.

Repeating the same 'junk statistics' doesn't change how much time my clock reports.

As a side note, I too did the math and came up with very similar numbers to those reported by Jeff above. Instead of focusing on the profitability of GTG, WSDOT should be focusing on fixing the problems that were there prior to GTG and all of the problems that GTG has caused.

Don't whitewash this project so you can sell more. Fix the core problems.

Vince R said...

@Helena, when I raised this issue prior to GTG launching, I was informed that Washington State has adopted a policy to making driving just painful enough that people would look for alternative ways to travel.

I am paraphrasing it a bit, but not much.

Vince R said...

@WSDOT - I seem to remember pretty much every study done on 99 saying people would avoid 99 so the best plan of action would be to toll north and south bound arterial roads in Seattle, as an anti-incentive to try to bypass 99 tolls.

Care to comment on the plans for tolling roads other than 99, to 'pursuade' people not to bypass 99?

How about an update on that entire process. I am sure it will be a 'success' already.

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