Republican State Representative Mark Harmsworth is taking steps to respond to the overwhelming number of people who have voiced their strong dislike for the Washington Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) tolling scheme on Interstate 405. Harmsworth recently stated, “What I’ve been hearing from my constituents is that 405 is an unmitigated disaster.”
So, he plans to propose a bill that would suspend the I-405 tolling lanes.
Harmsworth’s proposal would scale back WSDOT’s I-405 express lane tolling project. Currently, there are two toll lanes going each direction. Harmsworth’s bill would leave in place one the new tolling lane onI-405, but return to drivers an HOV lane during the day which would open to all traffic starting at 7 p.m.
“The tolling pieces are still there for one lane but it gives back a lane to everybody that was taken earlier in the year,” Harmsworth told KOMO News. “And after 7 p.m. it’s open to all traffic so everybody can use all the lanes without paying. So that’ll really help get things moving again.”
WSDOT officials continue to claim that they did not convert general purpose lanes on I-405 to toll lanes. Officials have responded to commuters’ demands to give them back their 4th general purpose lane by stating that “no general purpose lanes were removed to create an express toll lane.” Rather, according to WSDOT, “a lane was added to create [two express] toll lanes Bothell-Bellevue.”
Of course, WSDOT officials did remove a general purpose lane to create an express toll lane. They just did it in two steps.
WSDOT claims that there were three general purpose lanes on I-405. However, what the agency is claiming now does not match up with what it told the public back in 2007. As the Washington Policy Center points out, in 2007, WSDOT promoted a project widening I-405 by promising commuters a fourth general purpose lane.
In 2010, the I-405 tolling bill (SHB 2941) circumvented the original plan for I-405. Via the Washington Policy Center,
“The I-405 Master Plan was adopted in 2002 and plans for up to two additional lanes in each direction along the entire I-405 corridor. Some of the projects, including the new lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood, were funded with the Nickel and TPA gas tax increases in 2005 and 2007. In fact, the WSDOT has already built a portion of the lanes just north of Bellevue to fix the infamous ‘Kirkland Crawl.’ This mile-and-half section is open and being used by general purpose traffic. The WSDOT is also currently extending the lanes further north.
“SHB 2941 would convert these existing lanes and the remainder of the yet-to-be-built gas tax lanes to HOT (toll) lanes.”
Harmsworth’s proposal comes after WSDOT released its latest data on the I-405 tolling scheme last month. According to the report, drivers using the express toll lanes have seen the benefits—but at a cost. Drivers willing to pay an average of $2 to $3 a trip save 12 to 14 minutes off their trips.
The report also, however, acknowledges congestion for commuters using the general purpose lanes has increased during the weekday evening commute between Bothell and Lynnwood. For those drivers, the commute takes five to ten minutes longer.
Harmsworth believes he can get bi-partisan support for his bill. For the sake of all those general purpose lane users, here’s hoping he is right.