Voters will be asked on the Nov. 4 ballot to decide on Initiative 985, a statewide measure that would open carpool lanes to all traffic during nonpeak hours, synchronize traffic lights and dedicate existing taxes along with fines, tolls and other revenues to getting traffic moving.
I-985 is the 14th statewide initiative promoted by Mukilteo resident Tim Eyman over the past 10 years. Seven of the 10 that made it to the ballot have passed, including proposals lowering car tab fees, capping property taxes at 1 percent and requiring performance audits of public agencies.
Opponents argue that the measure offers an overly simplistic approach to a complex problem best left to professional traffic engineers.
A key area of disagreement is the effect of opening up carpool lanes during nonpeak hours. Those hours would include any time other than peak hours of 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. During peak hours, the use of carpool lanes would be limited to motor vehicles carrying at least two people, and motorcycles.
Bill LaBorde, a spokesman for the No on 985 coalition, argues that peak commuting times stretch beyond the hours defined in the initiative and that Saturday traffic also can be particularly heavy on I-5, I-405 and Highway 520.
The high-occupancy vehicle lanes also provide a nice incentive for carpoolers and bus riders who feel assured of reliable traffic times. By opening those lanes to cars with one occupant, the “travel time advantage” would be lost for those willing to carpool and take the bus.
Eyman argues that the state isn’t using its road capacity well during non-peak hours by allowing light flow in carpool lanes while other lanes back up.
Over five years, roughly $620 million would be redirected from projects and activities supported by state and local general and transportation funds to congestion relief activities, according to an analysis done by the state Office of Financial Management.
That total would include $224.2 million for opening carpool lanes to general traffic during off-peak hours, $65.7 million for synchronizing traffic lights, $18 million for additional emergency relief and $1.4 million for the State Auditor to monitor performance, according to that analysis. The remaining $312.9 million would be available for other congestion relief activities, including expanding road capacity.
So far, ReduceCongestion.org has raised more than $642,907 for its campaign and No! On I-985 has raised about $91,220, according to state Public Disclosure Commission records.
To get a perspective from each side, go to ReduceCongestion.org and www.no985.org.