Study reveals I-405 tolls in Washington State made traffic worse

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 2/19/2016

An independent study looking into congestion after the implementation of express toll lanes along Interstate 405 in Washington State reveals that congestion has gotten worse since tolls began last September. Governor Jay Inslee’s response suggests changes to the express toll lanes.

Global road traffic and driver services data software company INRIX compared conditions before and after the toll on two northbound and two southbound segments of I-405 between Bellevue and Interstate 5 near Lynnwood. According to the results, general-purpose lanes experienced extended peak hour conditions and slower speeds during the peak hour. Any improvements experienced after the tolls began were isolated to HOV/HOT lanes, vehicles that already had experienced the least congestion.

Critics have been asking to end express toll lanes since Day 1. In a post on its website, pointed out that 31,000 petition signers and bills in both the House and Senate called for either changes or a complete dismantling of the toll lanes. The grassroots activist group urges legislators to stop tolling and restore the lanes to two-person carpool lanes during the day and open to all at night and to remove the double lines for open access. Bills SB6152 and HB2312 contain similar demands.

Gov. Inslee immediately responded in a press conference, offering more than a dozen changes to the program, including several that have already been completed

“While the data shows there have been significant improvements for many motorists and the corridor as a whole, new chokepoints have developed and we are hearing the frustration from those affected drivers,” Inslee stated in a press release. “I’m directing WSDOT to move on short- and long-term solutions to address these chokepoints.”

Future improvements include:

  • Adding pavement marking to clarify exits and lanes. (SB I-405 at NE 6th Street)
  • Adjust access type and length to provide more open access to toll lane. (NB I-405 at SR 520)
  • Adding additional signage and lengthening access point for clarity and more time to merge. (NB at NE 160th Street)
  • Monitoring of traffic patterns and operations at three locations.
  • Add northbound auxiliary lane between SR 520 and NE 70th Place.
  • Add a general-purpose hard running shoulder on NB I-405 from SR 527 to I-5.
  • Changes to algorithm which calculates toll rates.

Completed improvements include:

  • Added skip stripes to better define start of second express lane. (SB I-405 at NE 160th Street)
  • Added clarifying pavement marking eliminate driver confusion. (NB I-405 at NE 6th Street)
  • Lengthened access point to allow drivers additional time to merge. (SB I-405 at SR 527; NB I-405 at I-5; NB I-405 access at SR 527)

Another significant change suggested by Gov. Inslee includes lifting the tolls on evening off-peak hours, weekends and holidays, similar to the requests of Those changes can start as early as this spring. Inslee also wants to add capacity to the customer service call center to reduce wait times.

Last September, Washington State added HOT/express toll lanes to 17-miles of I-405 between Lynnwood and Bellevue. Toll lanes were expected to address the issue of congestion on the Eastside of the region.

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