A date for at least a bit of congestion relief has been set for commuters on I-405 between Bothell and Lynnwood.
During the last session, state legislators approved the bonding of I-405 toll revenue, allowing the build-out of at least one highway project to begin sooner.
Construction to widen I-405 between highways 522 and 527, which will add another express toll lane in each direction, will now start by 2021, according to Craig Smiley, a spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Transportation. The project also includes building direct access ramps from Highway 522 onto the express toll lanes, and direct-access ramps at a rebuilt Highway 527 interchange.
Before this change, there was no firm start date listed for the I-405 plan, Smiley said. No funding source had been allocated for construction.
Completion was years in the future, said Davina Duerr, deputy mayor of Bothell.
Now the lanes are set to be completed in 2024, the same year Sound Transit plans to launch its bus rapid transit system along I-405.
Described by the agency as “like rail on rubber tires,” bus rapid transit systems are designed to improve capacity and reliability compared to other bus systems. The line will run from Lynnwood to Burien.
Bus rapid transit wouldn’t have been successful without the toll lanes or direct access ramps, Duerr said.
“Without them, we would have had buses weaving out of general purpose lanes. It would have been a nightmare,” she said.
Without the ability to bond toll revenue, the area would have had to wait for another gas tax to complete the work, Duerr added.
“We are already paying those tolls and not getting much out of it,” Duerr said. “It’s a really great thing.”
Bonding also means the toll roads are likely to be around for a while. Critics of the change don’t want the state to incur additional long-term debt in this way. They want tolls to be used for day-to-day operations, maintenance and needed improvements in the areas where they are collected.
In the three years and three months the express toll lanes have been operating between Bellevue and Lynnwood, $83.3 million has been collected, $27.3 million of which has been used to maintain and operate the lanes, according to a WSDOT report.
Also set to come online in 2024 is an I-405 widening project from Bellevue to Renton, adding a lane in each direction. That lane would become an express toll roadway, along with the existing carpool lane. This also was authorized by the Legislature this spring, along with extending express toll lanes on Highway 167 from Renton to Puyallup.
Revenue on these stretches would be added to what’s collected on the north end of I-405 and be reserved for projects along these corridors, according to Emily Glad, a spokesperson for WSDOT’s toll division.
The bonding legislation allows for up to $1.16 billion to be borrowed for these roadways. Another $340 million can be bonded for use along the Puget Sound Gateway, which includes other parts of Highway 167 and Highway 509.
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