New I-405 HOV rules are expected to be approved Tuesday

Signs show the rates for using the express toll lanes for traffic headed southbound on I-405 in Bothell. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Signs show the rates for using the express toll lanes for traffic headed southbound on I-405 in Bothell. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

OLYMPIA — Drivers’ ability to use the I-405 express toll lanes for free on nights, weekends and holidays is about to be chiseled into law.

The state Transportation Commission on Tuesday plans a final public hearing before it is expected to approve a permanent change in the rules on when tolls can be collected on the 17-mile stretch of I-405 between Lynnwood and Bellevue.

Commissioners are scheduled to consider the matter at 1 p.m. in the board room of the Transportation Building, 310 Maple Park Ave., Olympia.

The changes took effect March 18 under an emergency rule passed by commissioners. Since then they’ve gone through a formal rule-making process. When that’s completed with the likely commission action Tuesday, the emergency rule will expire.

Drivers won’t notice any difference in what’s been the situation the past four months.

Tolls only will be collected on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. On weeknights, weekends and six major holidays, the express toll lanes are free and open to all traffic. The free holidays are New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Commissioners made the changes at the urging of lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee, and in response to commuters frustrated by operational snags since the express lanes opened in September.

The state has expedited several modifications to make it easier for vehicles and buses to get in and out of the lanes. There’s also been a handful of snafus with billing and toll collection.

And while thousands of commuters are saving time using the express lanes, congestion in general purpose lanes on a stretch of northbound I-405 in Bothell continues to be worse now than before the lanes opened.

The state budget contains money to identify projects to reduce congestion and add capacity on the stretch of I-405 between Highway 522 and I-5.

There’s also money for an auxiliary lane on northbound I-405 from Highway 520 to Northeast 70th Place in Kirkland, and funding to convert the right shoulder into a usable travel lane between Highway 527 and the exit-only lane onto I-5 in Lynnwood.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com Twitter: @dospueblos.

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