Officials say I-405 tolls working; opponents disagree

OLYMPIA — As the express toll lanes on I-405 enter their fifth month of operation, opinions remain split on whether they are making for speedier and easier commutes for most drivers.

State transportation officials told a legislative panel Thursday that cars and buses are moving several minutes faster on the 17-mile stretch between Lynnwood and Bellevue than they did in 2014.

They said their figures show drivers traveling the entire stretch of toll lanes save an average of 14 minutes and bus rides in the morning southbound commute are five to seven minutes faster, on average, than they were a year ago.

Even those traveling in the southbound regular lanes in the morning commute are shaving time off their trips, Assistant Secretary of Transportation Patty Rubstello told the House Transportation Committee.

But a Mill Creek lawmaker and the leader of an anti-toll lane group contended that relying on averages fails to provide an accurate picture. They said thousands of drivers are encountering longer commutes and greater congestion on an almost daily basis.

“I don’t get it,” said Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek. “At the end of the day, your data doesn’t match the experiences on the road.”

In response, Rubstello acknowledged the frustration.

“I recognize some of the data we’re sharing is averages and not every day is an average day,” she said.

Thursday’s 90-minute work session revealed the difficulty for lawmakers to discern if the toll lanes are working to improve the flow of traffic on one of the state’s most congested stretches of highway.

While they get statistics from DOT showing progress, they hear stories from constituents that indicate the opposite.

“The perception is the reality,” said David Hablewitz of Bothell, a founder of, “All the numbers aside, whatever people experience is the reality.”

At one point Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, the committee chairwoman and a toll lane supporter, asked rhetorically how can the Legislature accurately measure success.

“Averages don’t work for us. Anecdotes don’ work for us,” she said.

Afterward, Harmsworth remained steadfast in his belief the toll lanes are not making for faster and easier travel on I-405.

“It’s not changed my opinion,” he said. “I don’t think the Department of Transportation can explain their own data adequately.”

Harmsworth is one of the most vocal critics of toll lanes in the Legislature. He’s introduced a bill to reduce the number of lanes through Bellevue, erase the double white lines and allow vehicles to use them for free on nights and weekends,

But Clibborn said Friday she will not schedule a hearing on it or a companion version the Senate is considering.

She said she might insert language in the transportation budget directing the Department of Transportation to address congestion problems its identified and report back on their progress.

“I’m not planning to do anything in my committee about I-405,” she said. “I am planning to continuously monitor them and see what they can to do to make those toll lanes better. We’ll be very measured in how we make changes but we’ll be making changes.”

Harmsworth said he was “disappointed” his bill won’t be heard but isn’t conceding.

“I’ve driven this corridor for 20 years and it’s gotten progressively worse,” he said. “My goal is to move traffic in the 405 corridor.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;

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