A new law in Washington state makes permanent the express toll lanes pilot project on Interstate 405 northeast of Seattle. The state is also authorized to extend the I-405 toll lanes from Bellevue to Renton.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law the bill that includes a provision to make permanent express toll lanes along state Route 167, as well as be extended from Renton south to Puyallup. Toll lanes can also be extended along state Route 509.
Advocates say the extension of tolls on highways 167 and 509 will improve freight access to regional ports.
Previously SB5825, the new law also authorizes the use of toll revenues to pay back bonds needed to get construction work underway sooner rather than later. Specifically, the state is permitted to sell up to $1.5 billion in general obligation bonds backed by toll revenues.
The majority of bonds would be allotted for the I-405 project.
Opponents say linking toll revenues to bonds will encourage the state to always rely on tolls.
Background of I-405 tolls
The I-405 project converted high-occupancy vehicle lanes and a general-purpose lane into express toll lanes, or ETLs, in September 2015. The project along a 17-mile stretch of I-405 between Lynnwood and Bellevue was set up for a two-year test period.
Continuation of the pilot project has been contingent on two benchmarks: The facility must be operationally profitable and the express toll lanes must maintain an average speed of 45 mph for 90% of the time during peak periods.
The lanes have shown to pay for themselves. However, the average speed requirement has not been met. The average speed in the affected lanes are 45 mph or more about 80% of the time – almost 10% shy of the required threshold.
The Washington State Department of Transportation has since claimed uncertainty about whether the intent of the law was for both criteria to be met.
SB5825 includes a provision to remove the speed requirement. Instead, the speed threshold is described as a “goal.”
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