By Emily Pace
It's hard to believe the I-405 express toll lanes have already been in operation for two years. Twenty-five million trips have been taken on the express toll lanes since they opened to the public on Sept. 27, 2015. Drivers who decide to skip traffic and use the express toll lanes pay an average toll of about $3 and save 11-14 minutes, getting a faster, more predictable trip.
Benefits despite increased volume
People traveling on I-405 like having a choice to get out of traffic faster. Before the express toll lanes, the HOV lanes were often as congested as the regular lanes, offering little benefit to carpools and transit. Data shows that the express toll lanes maintain faster speeds during peak times and move more vehicles than the old HOV lanes. For example, a trip between downtown Bellevue and Lynnwood that should have taken 16 minutes in the old HOV lanes used to take 27 minutes on average and 39 minutes on an especially bad day. Today, the same trip takes 16-19 minutes on average. That's a significant time savings for people who drive the corridor.
We're seeing these positive trends despite the huge growth our region continues to experience. These days, a new driver moves here every 6 minutes! I-405 carries almost 20,000 more vehicles a day in some places than two years ago. Lined up bumper-to-bumper, those cars would stretch 65 miles from Bellevue to Olympia. Luckily, the express toll lanes were designed to move higher volumes than regular lanes and keep traffic flowing when congestion is at its worst. For people driving in the regular lanes, their average speeds have either remained the same or improved.
Investing in the corridor
We recognize that I-405 still has significant traffic congestion, and we have many projects to build through our long-term Master Plan. Every time a driver pays a toll, they are investing in improving the corridor. More than 17 million express toll lane trips were taken by toll-paying vehicles, generating $38.6 million in revenue. We need about a third of the revenue for operations and maintenance. The remaining two-thirds, about $25 million, must be used to fund improvements to I-405.
In April, we used some of this money to add a new peak-use shoulder lane from Canyon Park to Lynnwood to speed things up during the afternoon rush hour.
We are committed to making the lanes even more efficient to help manage congestion as our region grows. As of the end of June, which was our last official reporting period, when looking at the average in both directions, the express toll lanes offered speeds of 45 mph or faster 81 percent of the peak period. That's significantly higher than the performance of the previous HOV lanes which moved cars at that speed only 62 percent of the time. While we're not yet meeting the goal the Legislature set of 45 mph or more 90 percent of the time during peak periods, the lanes' northbound performance has improved a great deal since the opening of the peak-use shoulder lane. During the four months between the opening of the peak-use shoulder lane and the end of August, the express toll lanes met the 45 mph standard 86 percent of the time. Overall, most of the corridor is meeting the Legislature's goal, with the exception being the southbound single-lane section between I-5 and SR 522, due to the heavy demand from drivers in the morning commute, which is pulling down the overall average.
We are continuing to look at new ways to lessen the amount of time people spend in traffic on the corridor. The Legislature provided additional funding to continue studying how we can add capacity in the northern portion of the corridor, and we are exploring how we can provide improvements in that area. We're also moving forward with much-needed improvements between Bellevue and Renton, which were funded by the Legislature in the 2015 Connecting Washington package.