Not a commuter? How I-405 tolls apply to you

Driving a friend to the airport.

Packing the kiddos in the car seats and heading to visit Grandma on the Eastside.

A van full of students coming over the Cascades for a local high school soccer match.

There are tolls coming to I-405 this fall, but not all of us who use the interstate are day-in, day-out commuters.

What do the changes mean for infrequent users like us?

The short answer: If you think you might use the express toll lanes at all, consider a Good to Go account from the state. You can still use the lanes without an account, but expect to pay significantly more than the toll that’s flashed up on the sign boards.

“There is that pre-planning that needs to happen,” Director of Toll Operations Patty Rubstello said.

I’ve gotten several questions from folks who only drive I-405 infrequently and wonder how this is all going to work.

First, the basics: Tolls will vary based on congestion and your destination. The rates will be displayed on overhead electronic signs. You pay the rate that’s posted when you enter the lane at a designated entry point. The tolls will range from 75 cents up to $10, with the typical toll expected to range from 75 cents to $4, depending on how much of the 17-mile tolled stretch you travel.

Actual costs will vary even beyond that, however, depending on how you choose to pay the toll.

Here are some options to consider:

Don’t do anything. If you choose to use an express toll lane, cameras will take a photo of your license plate and send you a bill. Pay-by-mail is the most expensive way to pay a toll, however, at a whopping $2 above the posted rate at the time of the trip.

Wait until afterward to do something. A short-term account can be opened within 72 hours of traveling a tolled roadway. The account is valid for 14 days and then automatically closes. Only one vehicle can be on an account. You’ll still pay more, however, at $1.50 above the posted rate.

Go half-way. Skip the fancy transponder, but open a Good to Go pay-by-plate account that’s linked to the license plates in your household. You’ll pay the posted rate, plus a 25 cent charge per toll.

Go all the way. Open a pre-paid Good to Go account and buy a transponder. You’ll pay only the posted toll once you’re set up. Transponders, called passes, range from $5 to $15 plus tax. They cannot be moved between vehicles.

The most expensive of those transponders, the Flex Pass, is about the size of a candy bar and includes a switch for drivers to toggle between toll mode or a high-occupancy mode, which can be used when the vehicle meets the occupancy requirements to travel a toll lane for free.

So, who can travel for free?

Carpools with three or more people can be exempt from paying a toll on I-405 during weekday peak hours (5-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. Monday through Friday). Carpools of two or more people are exempt during off-peak hours and weekends.

Motorcycles, transit vehicles and vanpools can always travel free.

In each case, however, a Good to Go account and transponder are required so the tolling equipment recognizes who’s passing through and skips the bill.

What about friends and family who come to visit?

If you have a Good to Go account, you can help visitors by temporarily adding their license plates to your account. The charges would come in to your account at the pay-by-plate rate of 25 cents above the posted toll.

So what now?

Now that I’ve thoroughly info-dumped on you…

If you think a Good to Go account is the right option, you can learn more and set one up by going to mygoodtogo.com or calling 866-936-8246.

The nearest walk-in customer service centers are in Seattle (4554 Ninth Ave. NE) and Bellevue (13107 NE 20th St., Suites 3 and 4).

The state also has an online tool to help drivers decide which pass is the best fit at www.wsdot.wa.gov/GoodToGo/PassSelectionhelp.htm.

The state encourages frequent users of I-405 to set up a Good to Go account, and to spring for a Flex Pass if they might occasionally meet the new carpool requirements.

“This will all give drivers flexibility to use the new express toll lanes when they need them for a faster and more reliable trip,” said Ethan Bergerson, a spokesman for WSDOT’s toll division.

Have a question? Email us at streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your name and city of residence. Look for updates on our Street Smarts blog.

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