Some changes, more waiting for new I-405 bottleneck

The state is making some changes to the troublesome north end of its I-405 tolling project. But it’s waiting on any big changes, meaning drivers frustrated by longer commutes may not be fully satisfied.

Among the changes:

– Tolls now increase a bit earlier in the morning between Highway 527 (Canyon Park) and NE 195th Street (Bothell) to better manage traffic that had been clogging the specialty lane.

– Double white striping will be pulled back about 400 feet to allow more room to merge to I-5 from the end of the express toll lanes in Lynnwood.

State figures show it takes less time to travel the 17-mile length of I-405 that includes tolling than it did this time last year. That’s true for toll-lane users as well as general purpose lane drivers.

The key exception is the evening commute northbound at Bothell.

Heavy congestion north of Bothell now starts earlier for the evening commute and builds from there, spreading from 3:30 to 7 p.m., reports the Washington State Department of Transportation. Travel times between Bothell to Lynnwood have been between 5 and 10 minutes longer than the 2014 average.

The reason?

As part of the tolling project, the state added a new lane south of Highway 522. Crews also improved the interchange at Highway 522, pushing clog points further north.

Heading north now, five lanes of traffic go down to three lanes, creating a congestion-inducing bottleneck.

“Improving this section is a very high priority for our traffic engineers,” wrote spokesman Ethan Bergerson in a WSDOT Blog post about the topic. “We are looking very closely at what we can do in this section. The solution may lie in changing the access points, but it is difficult to predict the exact effects of more access and we need to be sure that our actions would create benefits before we make a change.”

Temporary striping will make any changes easier. But for now the state is sticking to its prediction that it will take six months to a year to fully adjust and settle into a new normal.

“It’s still too soon to draw long-term conclusions,” Bergerson said.

So far, toll-lane users travel the 17-mile corridor 14 minutes faster than general purpose lane users at an average toll of $3.05. Toll-lane drivers save an average of 12 minutes northbound during the evening peak for an average toll of $2.35.

Travel in the regular lanes during peak commute hours has been 5 to 20 minutes faster than last year for the full 17-mile route.

The state figures have not addressed anecdotal reports about increased side-street congestion since tolling began.

More tolling Q’s?

Writers over at The WSDOT Blog have taken on some frequently asked questions about toll lanes, including further discussion about where toll money goes, which we’ve also touched on in our own online I-405 tolling Q-and-A.

In short, 54 cents of every toll goes to the costs of collecting the toll. Everything beyond that goes back into I-405 improvement projects — 21 cents per 75-cent toll, $1.21 per $1.75 toll, and so on.

Separately, staff also take on frustrations over customer service, with answers about long call wait times, long wait times for Flex Passes to arrive by mail, and other questions.

If you’re trying to call customer service, try early morning Thursdays and Fridays for your best chance at a shorter wait. Some things can be done online, at mygoodtogo.com.

And if you’ve noticed it takes longer to travel I-405 on weekends compared to pre-tolling days, you’re not alone. Staff note that fewer drivers use the toll lanes on weekends, perhaps a trend that will change with time as many folks still wait for Flex Passes to arrive and as more drivers become more used to the lanes. Rain, major sporting events and construction projects were also likely factors.

Read more at wsdotblog.blogspot.com.

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

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