Expect traffic to be bad everywhere but 520 after tolling



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Posted on December 15, 2011 at 7:39 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 16 at 5:04 PM

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- The company tasked with tracking traffic has a forecast for what to expect when tolling kicks in on 520 -- and it's isn't pretty.

Inrix tracks traffic. At their control center in Kirkland, they closely monitor traffic trends in the congested Puget Sound area. The company uses GPS signals from cell phones and high tech devices. The slower those cell phones move, the more congested traffic is on a particular freeway, or city street.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: WSDOT's tolling guide

Inrix predicts drivers will at first avoid the 520 bridge altogether, resulting in congestion on the I-90 bridge, and drivers taking SR 522 to go up and around Lake Washington.

"There are people who will treat this as a closed road," says Inrix's Senior Manager for PR and Marketing, Jim Bak, referring to the 520 bridge.

Tolling begins Thursday, December 29. Peak fares will be $3.50 for drivers with Good to Go passes, and $5 for those without.

Inrix believes so many people who normally take 520 will stop, and that what used to be a normally congested commute should be better, though construction along 520 will remain a slowing distraction.

The analysis goes even deeper. Afternoon commutes are usually worse than morning ones, and Thursday afternoons are particularly bad. Southbound  I-405 through downtown Bellevue is likely to be a solid crawl from above the 520 interchange down to I-90. I-5 northbound north of 520 will become a lot more congested with those trying to go around the lake.

While Inrix is expecting traffic to balance out eventually, it doesn't expect things to ever be the same. Jim Back says,

"Some people just won't come back. They won't do it," says Bak.

"There will come a point where it's worth it to pay, because traffic is so bad,"  said commuter Rudy Gadrey. That's what the Washington State Department of Transportation is counting on, the lure of a decent commute on 520 might be worth the price to drive it.