WSDOT graphic

New shoulder lane drives down I-405 tolls at north end

BOTHELL — Drivers who commute along I-405 are seeing lower evening tolls thanks to the new shoulder lane.

In April, the state started allowing shoulder driving during the evening rush on a 1.8-mile stretch of northbound I-405, from Highway 527 to the I-5 interchange. Signs indicate when the shoulder is open to general purpose traffic.

Cars started traveling faster, and toll rates — which are tied to congestion — dropped accordingly.

Before shoulder driving, 16 percent of paid tolls during the evening peak were in the $8 to $10 range.

In May, that costliest tier dropped to 4 percent of paid tolls, according to numbers provided by the Washington State Department of Transportation. Tolls in the $6 to $8 range also dropped.

On the flip side, 16 percent of toll-paying customers paid $1 to $2 with shoulder driving, compared to 5 percent before.

Before and after, most drivers charged a toll paid the minimum 75 cents (41 percent before shoulder driving, 42 percent after).

Yet while traffic is flowing faster, drivers still report a new bottleneck at the interchange to northbound I-5, where shoulder driving ends.

“We have seen some backups there,” said Travis Phelps, a WSDOT spokesman. “You’re crunched down into a single lane there, and that lane maxes out. (Plus) we’re getting the traffic to that interchange faster.”

Fix one problem spot, and it often just shifts to another spot.

So for now, this is the new normal — don’t expect changes to the interchange anytime soon.

“Any traffic we add onto I-5 is also going to cause backups to that system,” Phelps said.

More people means more traffic

Meanwhile, the region gained another 82,000 people in the last year.

Those crowded roads are only getting more crowded.

The Puget Sound Regional Council is updating the region’s 30-year plan, “Transportation 2040.”

You can weigh in on some of the key issues — including how to pay for improvements — in an online survey, at http://tinyurl.com/y97ommvc.

Melissa Slager: streetsmarts@heraldnet.com, 425-339-3432.

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