Traffic moves along I-405 between Highway 522 and Highway 527 where WSDOT received the approval to build a second express toll lane on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021 in Bothell, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Traffic moves along I-405 between Highway 522 and Highway 527 where WSDOT received the approval to build a second express toll lane on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021 in Bothell, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

I-405 express lanes soon to become more expensive for commuters

The price increase, approved Monday, will increase tolls to a high of $15 during peak hours.

OLYMPIA — Starting March 1, tolls will be as high as $15 for commuters driving on I-405’s express lanes.

The Washington State Transportation Commission approved the changes Monday amid strong opposition from the public.

Leading up to the meeting, the commission received more than 5,000 emails commenting on the proposed toll increase. Of those emails, 4,200 expressed opposition.

Hours for the express toll lanes on I-405, which stretch from Lynnwood to Bellevue, will be 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, an increase of an hour each day. On weekends, the express lanes remain free.

In addition, the minimum toll rate will jump from 75 cents to $1, while the maximum rate will increase from $10 to $15.

Express toll lanes on the interstate use a dynamic price system, meaning drivers only see the maximum toll rate when the lanes are nearing capacity.

The maximum toll rates for the express lanes only apply to around 4% of the trips on I-405, said Karl Westby, the I-405 traffic operations lead for the state department of transportation.

Of the daily trips on the interstate’s toll lanes, 70% are either free or under $1.

The daily average toll cost is $2.41, Westby said.

Still, people who spoke during the meeting’s public comment segment expressed concern that the price increase would adversely affect low-income commuters.

Increased costs everywhere are leading more people to move away from the Puget Sound area, and raising the toll costs will contribute to that further, said Ricardo Garmendia, of Renton.

Heavy traffic along I-405 and an increase in travel times led to the price increase, said Carl See, the deputy director of the transportation commission.

During peak hours of congestion, the department of transportation found that travel times increased by 3 to 9 minutes in general use lanes, and 1 to 3 minutes in toll lanes, said Ed Barry, the department’s toll director.

Additionally, the state has found its transportation projects to be more expensive than anticipated.

In 2019, the Legislature allocated $605 million for an improvement project along the interstate to include an additional express toll lane. Last July, the department of transportation and Sound Transit awarded a bid to Skanska for $834 million, almost $300 million over the initial cost estimate.

The higher-than-expected costs are driven by inflation, workforce shortages and material costs, Barry said.

The project stretches 4½ miles between Snohomish and King counties. Construction began last year and is expected to conclude in 2028.

In 2023, the toll lanes on I-405 generated $25.8 million from 9 million trips, according to the state department of transportation’s annual toll report. The commission has not adjusted the rates since the express toll lanes opened in 2015.

Toll revenues are used to fund maintenance and improvement to existing facilities.

The changes to I-405 express lanes prices will also apply to the high occupancy toll lanes on State Route 167, which runs from Renton to Auburn.

The rate change on both roadways is expected to increase total revenues by between $4.8 million to $8.3 million in 15 months.

The changes were approved by the commission by a vote of 5-1, with Commissioner Roy Jennings voting in opposition.

“It’s a tough commute now,” said Commission Chair Debbie Young, “this has the potential to make it slightly better.”

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

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