Report: Commuters burned by I-405 toll lanes

A new report finds that despite increasing capacity by 25 percent, traffic is worse along Interstate 405.

KIRKLAND, Wash. - At Kirkland-based INRIX, CEO Bryan Mistele says if WSDOT's goal was to reduce congestion along Interstate 405, they failed.

INRIX, a data technology company, crunches numbers about commutes nationwide and beyond. After INRIX employees began complaining about their own commute, Mistele decided to do some research on the backups in their own backyard.

"You see pretty significant congestion on the 405 right now where the toll lanes are up around Kirkland. The current speed is around 14-mph, so quite slow for about 4:30 in the afternoon," said Mistele as he pointed to a real time traffic map.

He says the problem is the express toll lanes added last year between Lynnwood and Bellevue. The state called the tolls, which have an adjustable rate based on traffic, a critical step to reduce congestion. 

"For people in the general purpose lanes, we made things far worse. We added about 20-25 minutes on average drive time up the corridor," said Mistele. 

In an 8-page preliminary assessment, INRIX compared dates from October 2014, before the tolls, and October 2015, once tolls were in place. The research found extended congestion along I-405 for about eight hours in the morning and about three hours in the afternoon commute.

WSDOT responded by asking Mark Hallenbeck, the director of the Washington State Transportation Center at UW to review INRIX research. He found that INRIX did not present a full review of the performance of the corridor and questioned their accuracy.

Last month in its blog, WSDOT reported its own findings for the first quarter of operations, claiming drivers using the regular southbound lanes saw a seven minute travel time savings on average, and those using the express tolls lanes saw a 14 minute savings on average.

State lawmakers have formally requested that WSDOT consider shutting the express tolling system down through off-peak hours during nights, weekends and holidays. 

"We have heard clearly the frustration that drivers have experienced since the express toll lanes opened last September," said WSDOT Deputy Secretary Roger Millar and Transportation Commission Chair Anne Haley in a response letter to the request from lawmakers. 

"We are identifying the timeline and steps needed to modify the operations and to lift tolling during the evening off-peak hours," WSDOT said. 

Since the express toll lanes went live, WSDOT has made nine major improvements to the corridor to try and reduce congestion, including lengthening of toll lane access points and adding better signage.

 


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