Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Breaking down the latest express toll lane data

By Meredith McNamee

The latest I-405 express toll lane data is in and we are pleased to see that drivers between Bellevue and Lynnwood continue to see time-saving benefits in the express toll lanes. Between October and December of 2016, people who used the express toll lanes during the busiest hours of the day moved up to 24 mph faster than the regular lanes, and the express toll lanes carried up to 27 percent more vehicles per lane than the regular lanes.
Data clearly shows that the express toll lanes are being utilized in a big way.

While that is good news, the express toll lanes still have their challenges. Specifically in the area north of SR 522 in Bothell, demand during the peak commute exceeds the capacity with only one express toll lane. While there's no easy fix to that issue, we're working to find ways to help until a more long-term solution can be made.

Moving more vehicles during the busiest times
The Puget Sound region is growing by about 1,700 people every week and all of our roads are increasingly crowded. Like other freeways, I-405 is carrying more vehicles than it was last year. Unlike other roads, people on I-405 have a faster, more predictable choice to use the express toll lanes when they really need it.

Every weekday about 51,000 drivers choose to get in the express toll lanes. In Kirkland, where there are two express toll lanes and five total lanes, the express toll lanes represent only 40 percent of the pavement but carry 44 percent of the vehicles. In Bothell, where there's one express toll lane and two regular lanes, the express toll lane is carrying an impressive 39 percent of the vehicles.
A look at the percentage of traffic the I-405 express toll lanes are carrying

Of course, these statistics vary depending on when and where you are looking, but it gets more impressive when you look at the absolute busiest times and places. For example, each morning from 7:30-7:45 a.m. there are an average of 315 vehicles travelling south past the SR 522 interchange in the single express toll lane, which is 23 percent more vehicles than each regular lane. In Kirkland from 4:30-4:45 p.m. there are 74 more vehicles zipping past NE 53rd St. in each of the express toll lanes – 12 percent more – than there are in each regular lane.

Faster speeds when you need them
There is a reason so many drivers are choosing to pay the toll to use the lanes: Time savings. Vehicles traveling between Bellevue and Lynnwood save an average of 11 minutes southbound and 15 minutes northbound. That's almost 30 minutes saved round trip and about 2½ hours a week.

Overall, people in the express toll lanes moved an average of 20 mph faster than the regular lanes southbound during the peak morning commute times of 5-9 a.m. and 24 mph faster northbound during the afternoon peak times of 3-7 p.m.
The average speed at the top of each hour during peak commute times in the express toll lanes.

Of course, how fast you're traveling depends on where and when you are driving. Due to the different capacities in the single and double lane sections, travel times and average speeds vary a lot between these two sections. Data shows the fastest sustained speeds at the beginning of every hour during the peak commute were on the stretches with two express toll lanes.

Working to address challenges
One way that we measure express toll lane reliability is by calculating the percentage of time that vehicles in these lanes are moving at least 45 mph. The goal is vehicles moving 45 mph or faster 90 percent of the time during peak periods. Before the express toll lanes opened, vehicles using the I-405 HOV lanes were only moving 45 mph 52 percent of the time. The express toll lanes provide more reliability and vehicles are moving at 45 mph 78 percent of the time during peak periods.

When you break it down between double- and single-lane sections, you'll see why we aren't meeting the 90 percent goal. Where we built a new lane, speeds exceeded the goal 93 percent of the time between July and December. In the single-lane section where no new capacity was added, vehicles moved 45 mph 67 percent of the time.
I-405 travelers on the stretch where there are two express toll lanes.
reach speeds 45 mph or faster 93 percent of the time

While limited capacity combined with heavy demand is one factor in the performance of the single-lane stretch, congestion in the neighboring general purpose lanes – which causes vehicles to slow down while traveling in the express toll lanes and while trying to exit – and the very wet weather we've had are also factors.

We are working to address the challenges as much as possible. We've used express toll lane revenue to improve speeds in the regular lanes between Bothell and Lynnwood with a new peak-use shoulder lane that opened on April 24. We're also building a new merge lane near SR 527 to give vehicles space to slow down and merge without creating a backup behind them. The new lane will provide drivers a place to pull out of the express toll lane before merging into the regular lanes.

While these improvements should help specific areas, they aren't silver bullets to solve the fundamental issue with the single-lane section: There's simply half as much space and incredibly high demand for a faster trip. We need additional investment in the corridor to build a second express toll lane in the northern portion of the corridor. The latest transportation budget includes funding to continue engineering work for the potential first phase of major north end improvements, which would add a new lane and improve interchanges in the section of I-405 between SR 522 and SR 527.

Putting toll dollars to work
In fall 2016, the average toll paid for all trips on the express toll lanes was approximately $2.25 and the average toll paid during the peak periods was approximately $3.35. This is up about 35 cents from the previous quarter, continuing a trend we've seen since opening the express toll lanes in fall 2015. We've also seen an increase in the number of people choosing to pay a toll of $8 or more, which was eight percent of peak period tolls this past fall.

With all that said, nearly 70 percent of all tolls paid during peak periods in the fall were $4 or less.

At the end of 2016, the I-405 express toll lanes had generated $22.6 million in toll revenue. After expenses like customer service, operations, and maintenance, about two-thirds of this money will be spent directly on improvements to I-405, which will benefit drivers and transit riders in every lane.

Want more data? Check out the full report in our project library.


Unknown said...

"Between October and December of 2016, people who used the express toll lanes during the busiest hours of the day moved up to 24 mph faster than the regular lanes, and the express toll lanes carried up to 27 percent more vehicles per lane than the regular lanes."

So if I am reading this correctly, I am being led to believe that the ETL lanes are carrying more cars and they are travelling faster. We should spread the magic ETL fairy dust on the GPLs so that let they can carry more cars faster.


We should ask how these kinds of numbers can actually be accurate.

I have to point out that the information used to help reduce congestion, information that is used by GPS devices to route people to the fastest route, is still sending people into the GPL hell. The GPLs are not faster than they used to be. It is beyond any doubt that the area north of 522 on 405 is much worse than it used to be for all travelers.

This is a nice piece. Polished well. Unfortunately, it still has information that is self contradicting and very misleading.

There has been a lot of work that has been done to try to improve our roads. Unfortunately, the ETL project has not been a good investment. We need a WSDOT that has a mission to reduce congestion, not manage it for maximum profitability.

fletc3her said...

The "magic fairy dust" is the idea that cars travel faster when they maintain adequate spacing. As more and more cars back into a roadway the spacing between the cars tends to decrease and the drivers of the vehicles slow down so that they can do a controlled stop. At a certain point vehicle density gets high enough that a traffic jam starts to form with vehicles being forced to come to a complete stop.

A stretch of road filled with bumper to bumper traffic going an average of 25 MPH has less effective flow than a stretch of road with well spaced vehicles going an average of 50 MPH. There are surely more cars ON the slower crowded road, but the number of vehicles which are passing a given mile post are greater on the faster, less crowded road.

Unknown said...

This report on the failed extortion toll lanes are just more propaganda and lies from WSDOT. These extortion toll lanes have been the biggest mistake in transportation history and the biggest ripoff of the public in recent memory. WSDOT will do or say anything to keep this failed experiment going. WSDOT should be ashamed for lieing and misleading the public. You have a responsibility to the public in regards to traffic congestion. These extortion toll lanes have made congestion much much worse and everyone knows this. If you really wanted to solve traffic congestion you would 1) suspended the extortion toll lanes ASAP. The new and improved configuration would be 4 general purpose lanes and 1 HOV lane. 2) add the general purpose lanes we were originally promised in the master plan. The master plan of 2001 was a great plan that would have made a huge difference in regards to traffic congestion. The master plan was a well thought out plan that involved the public, representatives and businesses. This was not the case in regards to the extortion toll lanes which were forced onto the public with propaganda and lies. The public will eventually do away with the extortion tolls and we will finally get traffic moving again. It is going to take years for WSDOT to get the public's trust again after this disaster.

Unknown said...

Complete, total, utter nonsense. Seriously, how do you trot out these outright lies over and over again and expect anyone to believe it? You want to know what the average toll for someone coming from Snohomish county is? $10 bucks....each and every day. Why no mention of that? The GPLs have ground to halt since the inception of this scam and gets worse by the day. Personally, my commute time has INCREASED by thirty minutes since this abomination was put in place. I refuse to pay the extortion fee, which for me would be around 5k (!!!!!) per year.

Lastly, I find it hard to believe that any system that has drove the need to put buses and cars ON THE SHOULDER as a success.

W$DOT cares about money, not drivers, and that is all you need to know.

Unknown said...

I have recently traveled to other states with ETL like solutions in place. I noticed a few things that make them work, where ours fails:

1. The successful solutions actually add new, separate, lanes.
2. The tolls tend to be more affordable for average citizens. $1.25 at peak VS $10.00
3. There are real options for commuters travelling in and out of the city.
4. The states do not try to 'manage congestion', they actually seem to want to reduce it.
5. There seems to be more forethought into the planning for traffic management.
6. They address well known points of congestion.

They were not perfect solutions btw, but they made our ETL look like poorly implemented science show projects where the volcano was made with tissue paper and soda.... not well formed and thought out.

I am troubled by how we keep claiming it is a success when our 'success' is posted as information 'sound bytes' that don't make sense when taken together nor does the driving experience match the information posted.

We price our ETL tolls based on average speed. That is a fact. The slower the traffic the higher the tolls. So you cannot post that the speed is higher on average AND the tolls are higher on average. Its either one or the other can be true. This is not Schrodinger's Cat where both realities are possible at the same time.

It took a visit from the Governor to Bothell to get some attention to how bad things got after the ETL went into effect. What did we do... is a gift... drive on the shoulder. Oh it should have no impact on safety. (dance dance dance... smile the politicians smile, kiss the baby, shake the hands..) If you repeat the same lies long enough, people forget about the past.

Unknown said...

There is another issue I see with how ETL is managed. We created a system where the worse traffic gets, the more budget the managing organization has.

We should not have a system that encourages poor design and management to obtain maximum profitability and income.

Any approach where rewards are based on highest income is a poor approach. Its like paying developers for how many lines of code they write.... just plain dumb.

One of the biggest issues we have for traffic jams are 'weight in motion' vehicles and traffic choke points, like the 520 to 405 change-overs. But ask when those will be fixed... its 'oh no, that is too hard to fix... wink wink... lets create a way to charge people for using a privileged lane... thats a better investment.'

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