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;

Talk to us

More in Local News

An example of the Malicious Women Co. products (left) vs. the Malicious Mermaid's products (right). (U.S. District Court in Florida)
Judge: Cheeky candle copycat must pay Snohomish company over $800K

The owner of the Malicious Women Co. doesn’t expect to receive any money from the Malicious Mermaid, a Florida-based copycat.

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

A fatal accident the afternoon of Dec. 18 near Clinton ended with one of the cars involved bursting into flames. The driver of the fully engulfed car was outside of the vehicle by the time first responders arrived at the scene. (Whidbey News-Times/Submitted photo)
Driver sentenced in 2021 crash that killed Everett couple

Danielle Cruz, formerly of Lynnwood, gets 17½ years in prison. She was impaired by drugs when she caused the crash that killed Sharon Gamble and Kenneth Weikle.

A person walks out of the Everett Clinic on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The Everett Clinic changing name to parent company Optum in 2024

The parent company says the name change will not affect quality of care for patients in Snohomish County.

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe) 20210727
Lynnwood settles for $1.7 million after 2021 suicide at city jail

Jail staff reportedly committed 16 safety check violations before they found Tirhas Tesfatsion, 47, unresponsive in her cell.

A semi-truck rolled over blocking all traffic lanes Thursday morning on I-5 north just south of Arlington on Sept. 21, 2023. (Washington State Patrol)
Overturned trailer spills fish onto I-5 near Arlington, closing lanes

The crash blocked all lanes, forcing drivers going north during rush hour to use the left shoulder.

The Marysville Municipal Jail is pictured Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Marysville weighs mandatory jail time for repeated ‘public disorder’

The “three strikes” proposal sets a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail for crimes like public drug use and trespassing.

Everett police on patrol heard gunshots near 26th Street and Lombard Avenue and closed off multiple roads as they investigated on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (Everett Police Department)
3 teens arrested after gunfire in downtown Everett

No one was injured. Police heard gunfire in the area of 26th Street and Lombard Avenue.

It’s time to celebrate and say thanks

Local journalism — and community support — will be the stars of Behind the News Stories on Oct. 24 in Edmonds.

Most Read