Wednesday, April 12, 2017

This is not a test: I-405 peak-use shoulder lane opens April 24

By Craig Smiley

Good news for travelers on northbound Interstate 405 in the south Snohomish County area: In less than two weeks, you'll have a new option for your afternoon commute.

At 2 p.m. Monday, April 24, the I-405 northbound peak-use shoulder lane will officially open to general-purpose traffic on the 1.8 mile stretch between State Route 527 and I-5. Between now and then, we're wrapping up our testing of the new electronic signs that will control the lanes, so you might still see some test messages, symbols and colors as you drive through the area.
A green arrow like this will indicate if the new I-405 peak-use shoulder lane is open to traffic.

Originally, the Washington State Legislature funded this project with an expected opening date in 2018. However, with approval to use revenues from the I-405 express toll lanes earlier, we were able to complete the project more than a year sooner than expected.

How do I use the lane?
As the name suggests, general-purpose traffic and buses will now be able use the northbound right shoulder as an additional lane during times with the heaviest congestion—in this case, the weekday afternoon commute. That means there will effectively be three regular lanes and one express toll lane in this area.

The peak-use shoulder lane will generally be open during the afternoon peak period but will be dynamically controlled, so be sure to check the overhead electronic signs before entering the lane.
A green arrow will indicate that the lane is open, and a red "X" will indicate that the lane is closed, similar to the signs you see today on I-5 near downtown Seattle. To learn more about what you might see on the signs, check out our previous blog on the subject.

During off-peak hours and weekends, the shoulder will remain closed so that crews still have space to perform maintenance and law enforcement and emergency services can use the shoulder as needed.

As with all highway operations, our traffic management center will be actively monitoring the shoulder lane. If there is a collision or incident, we will be able to close the lane in order to allow emergency services to respond. There will also be four paved emergency pullouts in the area of the peak-use shoulder lane.

Although this is the first electronically controlled shoulder lane of its kind in the area, you may have noticed that US 2 in Snohomish County also allows traffic on the shoulder during specific hours indicated on posted signs. For more information on other peak-use shoulder lanes in the region, check out the WSDOT congestion page.

Why did we add a lane in this area?
There have always been northbound bottlenecks at the SR 522 and SR 527 interchanges because we simply don't have enough lane capacity to handle the huge growth that south Snohomish County has been experiencing.

At the SR 527 interchange, an estimated 1,000 vehicles an hour enter northbound I-405 during the afternoon commute. For perspective, that's more than two full Kirkland Costco parking lots emptying on to northbound I-405 from SR 527 every hour. The peak-use shoulder lane will offer a new place for some of those vehicles to go without needing to merge directly into the already crowded I-405 lanes.

After we opened the dual express toll lane in September 2015 between downtown Bellevue and SR 522, we found that traffic is flowing more smoothly through Kirkland, where we have five total lanes. But north of SR 522, where we did not add any new capacity and have only three lanes, we're still seeing heavy traffic. (We're looking at longer-term solutions for this area, more on that below.)

As a result, most trips between Bothell and Lynnwood on northbound I-405 are now slower during the afternoon commute than they were before express toll lanes. The peak-use shoulder lane is just one of several identified improvements that we have been able to make over the past year and a half based on driver feedback.

What's next?
We'll be closely monitoring how the peak-use shoulder lane affects traffic in the coming months, but we know that this area of I-405 still needs more help. That's why we're continuing to look at how to fund and build additional improvements between SR 522 and I-5, including extending the second express toll lane farther north and improving the SR 522 and SR 527 interchanges to help traffic move more smoothly.
The Legislature gave us initial funding in the 2016 budget to study these improvements, and the governor's budget for next year includes $5 million more to continue our engineering.

Especially with Sound Transit planning to launch a new I-405 Bus Rapid Transit system from Lynnwood to Tukwila by 2024, we know it's critical that we help keep traffic moving and provide travelers with a more reliable trip option.

In short, the peak-use shoulder lane isn't the end of the road—it's just the start of what we hope will be a series of big improvements for the north end of I-405.


Unknown said...

Sound Transit is a gigantic waste of money! You and I are going to be paying for trains we will never ride on, with zero benefit to the average commuter. This ST3 plan also ignores the impending improvement in driverless cars. Trains are obsolete technology!

Unknown said...

"After we opened the dual express toll lane in September 2015 between downtown Bellevue and SR 522, we found that traffic is flowing more smoothly through Kirkland"

Hahahaha! Wow, that is funny! Hate to tell you, but you missed April Fool's day by a couple weeks.

Unknown said...

These extortion toll lanes have been the biggest mistake in transportation history and the biggest ripoff of the public in recent memory. WSDOT will never stop with there propaganda and lies. If you really wanted to help with traffic you would 1) disband the extortion toll lanes and 2) add the general purpose lanes we the tax paying public were originally promised in the 2001 master plan. Adding a shoulder lane is a joke and will do nothing but keep the congestion going which is what the extortion toll lanes are designed to do. Adding a general purpose lane NOT another extortion toll lane is what needs to be done. The only one that benifits from the toll lanes is the Texas company. It is a shame that the Texas company discourages adding the general purpose lanes, that way the congestion continues and the toll revenue comes in. What a joke. The toll lanes will eventually come down and we the people will take back our lane and we will get traffic moving again. Thank you representative Harmsworth for doing what is right and listening to the people. No toll on I405!

Unknown said...

I would love to buy the social media person for WSDOT a drink. You always provide the best updates and respond calmly to the crazies. Keep it up, you have lots of fans!!! (Also, congrats on finishing this ahead of schedule!)

Unknown said...

The only way congestion is going to magically get better around here is if people stop moving in and some move out. The region is too big and building more lanes will just put more people going slow into one area. The Toronto area has one of the widest freeways ever yet it's completely clogged everyday.

Taxes from gas don't do anything anymore, it's not enough money and tolls work because they generate more money and go back into the corridors themselves and not off to Eastern Washington where you won't benefit from it. Texas actually proves that tolls work because they have some of the nicest freeways and new construction to make new routes.

Tolls aren't this big consipricy that you think they are and are one of the least regressive 'taxes' since they're voluntary.

Unknown said...

Leaving I405 with only 2 general purpose lanes is irresponsible and just plain stupid. Our representatives and WSDOT are supposed to be making good decisions and these extortion toll lanes have been a complete failure. The 2001 master plan was a fantastic plan which was well thought out and involved the general public, businesses and representatives. It would make a huge difference in regards to traffic congestion. This was not the case on the failed extortion toll lanes which were forced on the public with lies and propaganda. As for Texas having the nicest freeways, I have been to Texas and they all have 4 to 6 general purpose lanes in each direction. This shows you do not know what you are talking about, As you think 2 general purpose lanes and an toll lane is adaquate, that is far from the truth!. We the public are tired of poor decisions and mis management by WSDOT. The extortion tolls will eventually come down by public pressure and we will get traffic moving again.

Unknown said...

WSDOT's mission seems to have changed from improving the congestion and safety of our roads.... to managing congestion for maximum profitability. As odd as this sounds, this is essentially what one of the messages said when I asked about their role in traffic management.

Our traffic has gotten significantly worst, almost overnight, when the ETL test was turned on. And remember, this is actually a 2 year test. This is part of the reason that WSDOT is so anxious to claim it a success. However the reported numbers are cooked, the time it takes for me to travel the areas affected by the ETL still takes longer. I am happy that our governor got to experience this first hand after the fire in downtown Bothell. I am disappointed that he didn't address the bigger issues related to the ETL. He has permitted this test to continue far past where it should have been allowed, so he is also to blame. What we permit, we promote.

Make whatever claim you like, my clock doesn't lie. It should be criminal to report the information to my representatives that WSDOT is reporting.

Improving our traffic issues isnt going to be easy, but one thing I can see everytime I use 405 is that the ETL has absolutely made it worse for me.

Unknown said...

@Unknown - One of the ETL like systems that I was referring to, where it seems to be working, was in Dallas. There are stark differences between how it is run in Dallas (and many of the places I have seem it installed) and here.

- The mission is different. Money is not the determining factor for success.
- GPL and ETL are physically seperated, not death race 2000 style criss-crossing traffic
- Congestion choke points are mitigated (here we just say 'its too hard to fix' and ignore it)
- There are regional bypasses so weight-in-motion vehicles can bypass commuter traffic

We HAD great plans on how to fix these kinds of issues. However, our mission changed from fixing the problem... to managing the problem. We created conflicts of interest where the slower the traffic moves, the more money WSDOT gets to spend. We will scream the ETL is a success from the top of the mountains even before the trial period is complete and the traffic situation is worse.

I am not saying our traffic issues are easy to solve, but if you drive the 405 corridor every day, you know where the problems are. The ETL experiment did not fix them. While your sitting in the 520 to 405 interchange ask yourself how long it used to be BEFORE the ETL was installed. Dont forget that there used to be an extra GPL to help address the congestion that was taken for the ETL... oh WSDOT will tell you that that wasn't really a GPL they took... but the Kirkland Nickle Tax clearly says otherwise. Here is an article from 2005 that mentions the work...
Kirkland traffic project to start a year early

"...The “Kirkland Nickel Improvement Project” will add a new northbound lane between Northeast 70th Street and Northeast 124th Street and a new southbound lane between highways 522 and 520. The Northeast 116th Street interchange will be reconfigured for more efficient traffic flow...."

Negated by the ETL. Back to a crawl. This is just one example of known problems that WSDOT not only seem to be ignoring, but are contributing to make worse.... all of which affect regional traffic.

“Crucial to the master plan, this is the first of three projects of the Nickel Gas Transportation Funding Package of 2003, which provides $485 million to address the biggest I-405 choke points in Renton, Bellevue and Kirkland,” the governor said. “These projects couldn’t come at a more critical time. Some 800,000 trips are made on I-405 everyday, and I-405 carries twice the amount of freight shipped each year through the Port of Seattle.”

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