Monday, December 18, 2023

Answering your questions about toll rate changes for I-405 and SR 167

By Chris Foster

The Washington State Transportation Commission — which is responsible for setting toll rates — recently began work to assess and adjust toll rates for the Interstate 405 and State Route 167 express toll lanes. The Commission has released its toll rate proposal, which includes:

  • Increasing the minimum toll rate to $1
  • Increasing the maximum toll rate to $15
  • Extending evening tolling on I-405 by one hour, to 8 p.m.

The goal of the express toll lanes is to provide a reliable trip for transit, carpoolers and drivers who choose to pay a toll. To achieve this goal, the express toll lanes use dynamic pricing to set the toll rates.

When traffic volumes in the express toll lanes are low, the toll rate is low. As lane volumes increase, so does the toll rate which helps avoid overfilling the lanes to ensure a reliable trip for people choosing to use the lanes.

The Washington State Transportation Commission recently proposed
increasing toll rates on I-405 and SR 167.

The Commission has not adjusted toll rates for the SR 167 HOT lanes and the I-405 express toll lanes since the toll facilities opened in 2008 (SR 167) and 2015 (I-405). The decision to increase toll rates is never made lightly and is informed by careful analysis.

With that in mind, we want to provide a chance for you to share your thoughts on the proposed toll rate proposal.  You can get more information on the proposal, the process, the schedule and how to provide comments on the Commission’s website.  The Commission will hold its final hearing regarding the proposed changes at 9 a.m. on January 29. The hearing will be virtual and you can register to attend and comment on the Commission’s website.

We also know you probably have questions about the decision to adjust toll rates. We’ll answer some of the more common questions we receive and share the rationale behind why increasing the minimum and maximum toll rates is needed.

Why now?

With the new Renton to Bellevue express toll lanes scheduled to open in 2025, assessing the toll rates for the current facilities is necessary to ensure consistency for the future 50-mile corridor. However, a couple of different factors play into the updated timing for the rate adjustments currently being considered:

  • Per state law, the Commission is required to periodically review toll rates in relation to traffic performance of all lanes to determine if the toll rates are effectively maintaining travel time, speed and reliability. The Legislature included further direction regarding rate adjustments in the most recent transportation budget.
  • Population in the corridor has increased significantly since these facilities opened, and congestion has continued to worsen. As a result, the express toll lanes are unable to consistently meet their performance goals, and people paying to use the lanes are experiencing slower speeds.

One of the key metrics we use to measure express toll lane performance is how often traffic is traveling 45 mph or more during peak periods (5 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.). The graph below shows the percentage of time speeds reached or exceeded 45 mph during the past year.

Only the northbound I-405 peak period— which features more capacity with two express toll lanes between Bellevue and Bothell — is consistently meeting the 45 mph metric. The remaining three sections often reach the maximum rate due to high demand, at which point the ability to manage traffic and ensure a reliable trip is limited.

The Renton to Bellevue Widening and Express Toll Lanes project will add two new express toll lanes in each direction. Increasing the maximum rate will provide greater ability to manage traffic when many people are choosing to use the lanes, and help generate revenue for important corridor projects such as the I-405 Brickyard to SR 527 Improvement project and the SR 167 Toll Equipment Upgrade project.

Won’t this price out people who can’t afford to use the lanes for $15?

Most people won’t end up paying the maximum toll rate. In September 2023, the average daily toll paid by drivers with an active Good To Go! account and pass installed in their vehicle was $2.41 for the I-405 express toll lanes, and $3.36 for the SR 167 HOT lanes. During that same time, only 4 percent of trips reached the maximum rate in the I-405 express toll lanes, and 8 percent in the SR 167 HOT lanes.

If and when the toll rate reaches its maximum, that means many people are choosing to pay for a reliable trip, most likely due to heavy congestion in the general purpose lanes. We know some drivers will adjust their travel times, as the maximum toll rate is typically only reached during peak periods. Other drivers may adjust the way they commute (by joining a carpool or using public transportation).

How often will toll rates reach the new maximum?

We don’t know for sure how often the lanes will fill up and slow speeds down, causing the rates to increase. We do know that the current rates are reaching the maximum rate during peak periods more frequently, and when that happens, performance decreases as travel speeds in the lane slow down for everyone. In other words, people are paying for but not receiving the intended 45 mph or better speeds.

We looked at how often speeds were reaching 45 mph during peak periods in September 2023 from Tuesdays to Thursdays — which are generally the days we see the highest traffic volumes — and how often the toll rates were reaching their maximum during that same timeframe.

As you can see in the chart above, sections of the corridor that reach the maximum toll rate more frequently are meeting the 45 mph speed metric less often. In other words, once the toll rates reach their maximums, our ability to manage the lanes is limited and the result is slower speeds and a less reliable trip.

What is the timeline for these changes?

The Commission’s schedule for making changes to the toll rates is as follows:

  • January 17/18, 2024: The Commission will take public comment on the selected toll rate changes.
  • January 29, 2024:  The Commission will hold a final hearing to adopt toll rate changes, and public comment will be taken at the hearing.
  • March 1, 2024:  Toll rate adjustments take effect.

You can sign up to attend and provide comments at the two January Commission meetings on their website.


Peter Svensk said...

I'm concerned about the proposed toll rate increases for I-405 and SR 167 as outlined in the WSDOT blog post. These increases could create a financial burden for daily commuters, particularly those from lower-income backgrounds. The extended tolling hours might also affect off-peak travelers who typically use these routes to avoid higher costs. While understanding the need for traffic management, it seems there could be a more equitable approach that doesn't disproportionately impact those who are less financially flexible.

baconcheeseburger said...

There should be no tolls on any of Washington's roads. We pay a gas tax (on every gallon of fuel purchased); a use tax (when registering our vehicles); and as a property owner, I'm sure WSDOT has their hand out there too. As well, there are tolls on bridges! Start running Washington State like a business and stop increasing taxation across the board when and where you like because you "have a shortfall". Learn to "live within your means." The rest of us have to . . . - rb

Jim Nagel said...

How does increasing a toll rate improve traffic flow? Same number of cars, trucks, and buses on the road. Let's take the rate charged to the extreme. Let's say the peak rate is $1,000.00. Now less than 1% of the people on the highway can afford to pay it. The rest are stuck in gridlock. Not a solution.
The reality of these 2 highways is they are severely overloaded with traffic, and your solution has to come up with a highway system based on valuing your time by paying off the state with additional money. "Oh, you want to get home quickly? Pay us." "Traffic is really bad? Pay us more." Other than it being a selective choice, I would call that extortion.
Where is the accountability to exactly where this money goes? How about the highway fund we already paid in various taxes? Don't get me started on the gas tex.

Jim Nagel

Reggie Lithgow said...

Toll lanes hurt the working class and favor the rich. It allows those that can afford it to speed past everyone else. The people least likely to be able to flex their work schedule pay dearly in either time or money. Toll lanes should not happen in a democratic society.

Reggie Lithgow

WSDOT comment policy

Post a Comment