Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced plans to try to decrease congestion on Interstate 405 in answer to commuter complaints that the new express lane tolling system is making traffic worse.
The governor said he would not be shutting down the tolling system as some people have called for. But the state transportation department is making plans to add new northbound general purpose lanes to ease some of the congestion.
He's proposing funding for WSDOT to begin analyzing a new northbound auxiliary between SR 520 and 70th Place and a general purpose "hard running shoulder" SR-527 to I-5.
They also plan to make it easier to move into and out of the express lanes.
Inslee emphasized at a news conference that the tolling system is a two-year pilot and as a pilot it's doing its job. He says state officials are learning a lot from the experience and continually working to improve the situation for drivers.
"600,000 people have voted with their feet and have already used these toll lanes, but we have also experienced new choke points that have developed and we are hearing real frustration from real drivers," Inslee said.
He wants to stop tolls on evening off-peak hours, weekends and holidays.
"We're hoping that working with the transportation commission that can be accomplished as early as this spring," he said. "We have learned from our experience and what we have learned is that tolling during those times is not necessary to achieve the ends of this project which are to reduce congestion and improve commuting and travel times for the folks in the state of Washington."
Patty Rubstello, assistant secretary for the toll division at the Department of Transportation, said staff will work to see what logistics work best on 405.
"I'd like to say this is easy, but it's not. We need to make sure we understand what are the right hours to implement," she said. "We need to understand on the weekends, what are those implications? Do we need to do other things as well? So we want to be very thoughtful as we walk through this to make sure when this is implemented it's done well."
Inslee is also requesting the Legislature approve 10 new incident response teams for I-5 to quickly clear collisions and provide roadside assistance. The request adds $10 million to the governor's supplemental transportation budget.
The governor also has said he will talk about plans to replace dozens of aging expansion joins along the freeway from Marysville to Federal Way.
Inslee says the proposed changes to the I-405 express lanes will improve traffic flow and add capacity. Residents and workers in Seattle's eastern suburbs have complained about the tolling system that has increased congestion on an already busy roadway.
Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek, released the following statement on Gov. Inslee's proposed changes to the I-405 express toll lanes:
This is a step in the right direction to deal with the massive traffic congestion problems created by the express toll lanes on I-405. Opening the lanes to general traffic during nights, weekends and holidays – for no charge – along with re-striping for longer access zones between toll and general lanes, is a start. It is clear that thousands of I-405 commuters believe we cannot afford to wait any longer for these changes.
However, this does not fundamentally address the root issue - congestion during peak hours. It is merely a band-aid. In fact, some of the changes could take up to three years to implement. Whereas the general purpose lane that was converted could be changed back much faster. While the changes announced today would alleviate some of the traffic congestion, more needs to be done. We need to protect commuters by making these changes permanent by putting them into statute - telling WSDOT they would only have the authority to operate based on these new rules. Senate Bill 6152 and companion House Bill 2312 would achieve this and could be heard as early as next week. I will continue to work across the aisle to reduce traffic congestion for all drivers at all times.