Earlier this year, the state Transportation Commission approved a controversial plan to toll Interstate 405 express lanes from Bellevue to Lynnwood. Carpools will be required to have at least three people during peak hours – up from the current requirement of two people – and display an annual pass to use the express lanes. The unfortunate other drivers will “have to pay between 75 cents and $10 — in cases of extreme congestion — to travel one way between Bellevue and Lynnwood, depending on traffic.”
According to state officials, the I-405 toll lanes—which will open this fall—are supposed to help move traffic faster along the notoriously congested freeway stretch. But, according to a recent report, that likely will not be the case. Jim Bak, the spokesman for Kirkland-based traffic-tracking company Inrix, recently told the Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ) that he does not think the tolls would improve traffic. Rather, they will just keep traffic from getting worse. PSBJ,
“‘No matter how fast we put infrastructure in place,’ Bak said, ‘we have economic growth with population growth that is negating any of the gains we would get from any of those investments.’
“I-405 is congested for eight hours a day, every day, on average. Between 2010 and 2014, traffic there increased 94 percent…
“While the toll lanes might not make traffic significantly better, they will provide more reliability in trip times for drivers who are willing to pay the fee.
“‘We can make things not get progressively worse,’ Bak said, ‘but it won’t get progressively better.’”
The fact that the I-405 tolls will not improve traffic delivers adds insult to injury when it comes to Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) plan. As Shift reported, the amount the department plans to spend just to implement the new tolls manages to make a bad situation for drivers’ pocketbooks worse.
The complexity of WSDOT’s plan translates into high operating costs. According to the Seattle Times, the state estimates the tolling operations’ costs at $5 million, and rising to almost $8 million a year by 2021. That means the state plans on eating up three-fourths of the toll revenue just for operations. To be clear, for every dollar that WSDOT would charge drivers, the state would only generate 25 cents in revenue. That is a ridiculous overhead margin by any standard, even for government.
State transportation officials have defended the high operating costs, issuing assurances that the plan will ease congestion in the end. But, that does not appear to be the case after all.