OLYMPIA – When state Rep. Luis Moscoso travels south on I-405 in the new toll lanes, it’s been smooth-sailing and congestion-free.
But it’s getting into the lanes that’s been the problem, the Mountlake Terrace Democrat told a top state transportation official Thursday.
Moscoso said he gets on the freeway at Beardslee Boulevard in Bothell then must drive more than two miles before there’s a break in the double-white lines to allow access to the lanes. Many of his constituents endure the same frustration.
“I’m getting a lot of calls. We’re used to moving over to the HOV (carpool) lane and now we have to go two miles,” Moscoso said in a legislative committee hearing to review the start-up of the express lanes.
“I get it,” responded Craig Stone, assistant secretary for tolling with the Washington State Department of Transportation. “We’re looking at that. I’m not going to make any promises here.”
Stone spent nearly an hour in front of members of the House and Senate transportation committees sharing the department’s observations since tolling started Sept. 27 and addressing concerns raised by lawmakers.
Drivers in the express toll lane are saving from 15 to 25 minutes on the Lynnwood-to-Bellevue commute and toll rates average $1 to $1.50, he said. At the same time, travel times in the general purpose lanes in the 17-mile stretch are close to average in spite of an uptick in traffic volume overall, compared to 2014, Stone said.
But the changeover is not without issues, as lawmakers pointed out to him.
Drivers are upset with the new carpool requirement for three or more people to qualify for free travel during the commute. They’re frustrated by the location of some access points and want changes made.
Some lawmakers said they’ve heard drivers are traveling on side streets to avoid this stretch of highway and wanted to know how many commuters are doing that.
Stone said there’s a settling-in period of six months to a year as drivers get used to the changes and the department studies what the new pattern will be for this portion of I-405.
It may lead to reconfiguring access points and revisiting rules on the carpools, but not yet.
“I really hope this works,” Moscoso told him. “But you’ve got to show us some efficiencies that the public can trust.”
Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek, another member of the House Transportation Committee, has been outspoken about his concerns. He didn’t attend Thursday’s meeting but he said he’s been in contact with Stone.
“What I’m hearing from constituents just doesn’t match what Craig Stone is telling me,” he said.
He said he asked Stone to consider changing access points, going back to old carpool rules and even opening up the toll lanes to all cars after 7 p.m.
“My approach is to turn it on a little at a time while we figure this thing out,” he said. “I think we’ve launched a system that wasn’t ready and that’s why we’re having so many problems.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org