State to wait and see on I-405 toll lanes at difficult merge (updated)

(Updated since original post on Thursday, Oct. 8.)

Two weeks into tolling, Snohomish County commuters continued to report spikes in congestion and trouble accessing the express lanes in the northern end, including a troublesome merge to and from Highway 522.

“This is not a complaint about the toll so much as the planning,” said Kevin Crowe of Everett, who commutes I-405 for his Boeing job and also to take his son to school in Woodinville.

To get onto Highway 522 in the mornings, Crowe must exit the toll lanes well before that, just past Highway 527. “Which throws me into the meat of the traffic for a several-mile crawl,” he said. “I am paying anywhere from 3 to 5 dollars to just be shoved into the worst congestion of the trip.”

Lyle Rice of Mukilteo, who commutes to Redmond for his job at Microsoft, also cited a lack of entry and exit points from the toll lanes at the north end as adding to traffic problems rather than helping alleviate them. An entry point at the top of a hill further complicates movement, he said.

“It really seems like it was designed off a 2-D flow map and not by somebody who lives in the area and actually drives it,” Rice said.

WSDOT Assistant Secretary for Tolling Craig Stone said the express toll lanes are still in a ramping-up period, and that crews have left room to make changes if needed.

Additional striping already went down near NE 160th Street to better mark express lane and general purpose lane traffic.

Drivers are getting used to the new lanes, and collisions can quickly slow traffic even further. October also is a heavy traffic month, with the University of Washington Bothell and other schools starting classes. “The whole system is very fragile,” he said. The express lanes work best for those traveling the full 17-mile length, he acknowledged.

Long-term plans call for adding a direct access ramp from Highway 522 onto the express toll lanes. But there’s no funding for the addition.

In the meantime, a new braided ramp in Bothell that separates drivers from NE 160th Street heading for Highway 522 aims to alleviate some of the traffic volumes coming onto I-405 south. Before, drivers heading to Highway 522 from NE 160th often took I-405 south for a short distance first.

New rules that allow transit to drive on the shoulders near the interchange during congested commutes also aim to help.

In general, when designing the access points, WSDOT looked at several factors, including symmetry between the northbound and southbound directions, providing enough room to merge, and minimizing conflicting weaving volumes.

It’s expected to take six months to a year to settle into a new normal.

“People are changing their patterns, and every individual is making a logical decision about how they want to travel,” Stone said.

Information from local cities about the impacts on side streets also will help provide a fuller picture. That data is expected in about a month.

It’s premature to say if local side streets in Bothell are seeing more traffic, said Jamal Mahmoud, transportation engineer for the city. “But in general, just based on my traffic observations, I do not see a huge impact,” he said.

But drivers like Crowe, the Everett dad, said side streets are definitely an issue. And tardy arrivals have spiked at his son’s school since tolling began.

“Six months to a year of late school and work arrivals is an absurd expectation,” Crowe added.

In the meantime, Michael Mates of Monroe proposes an “I-405 Misery Index.”

“The formula could be a measure of difficulty in getting from 405 on-ramp ‘x’ to closest HOV entrance ‘y,’” he said. The shorter the distance, the greater the difficulty.

Factor in the number of lanes to be crossed, the average difference between speeds in the general purpose and express toll lanes, and you’ve got a better picture than a not-to-scale WSDOT map, he said.

“Thus, if you have only half a mile to cross two lanes from the on-ramp, and you are going 20 mph while the HOV lanes are going 60, you are probably going to get into a wreck, or not make it,” Mates added.

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

Talk to us

More in Local News

A wanted suspect was arrested after a standoff with law enforcement Tuesday night. (Bothell Police Department)
Kidnapping suspect arrested after standoff in Bothell

A large police presence contained the property in the 20500 block of 32nd Dr. SE on Tuesday night.

Community Transit's Lynnwood microtransit pilot project is set to launch this fall with a service area around the Alderwood mall. (Community Transit)
Lynnwood’s microtransit test begins this fall, others possible

Community Transit could launch other on-demand services in Arlington, Darrington and Lake Stevens.

Doctor Thomas Robey sits in a courtyard at Providence Regional Medical Center on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
‘It’d be a miracle’: Providence tests new treatment for meth addiction

Monoclonal antibodies could lead to the first drug designed to fight meth addiction. Everett was chosen due to its high meth use.

Rev. Barbara Raspberry, dressed in her go-to officiating garments, sits in the indoor chapel at her home, the Purple Wedding Chapel, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Everett, Washington. The space used to be two bedrooms, but she and her husband Don took down a wall converted them into a room for wedding ceremonies the day after their youngest son moved out over 20 years ago. The room can seat about 20 for in-person ceremonies, plus it serves as a changing room for brides and is the setting for virtual weddings that Raspberry officiates between brides and their incarcerated fiancees at the Monroe Correctional Complex. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett’s oh-so-colorful Purple Wedding Chapel is in the red

Rev. Rasberry has hitched hundreds of couples over the years. After her husband died, she’s unsure if she can keep the place.

Man dies in motorcycle crash that snarled I-5 in Everett

Washington State Patrol: he tried to speed by another driver but lost control and hit the shoulder barrier.

The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way, which Snohomish County is set to purchase and convert into emergency housing, is seen Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
County OKs hotel-shelter purchases, won’t require drug treatment

Snohomish County Councilmember Nate Nehring efforts failed to delay the vote and failed to require residents to get addiction treatment.

In a nearly empty maternity wing, Chief Administrative Officer Renée Jensen talks about how it has been almost nine years since east-county mothers could give birth at EvergreenHealth Monroe on Monday, April 1, 2019 in Monroe, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
EvergreenHealth Monroe seeks Community Advisors to guide services

Applications for the volunteer positions are due by Sept. 16.

1 dead in fire at Arlington RV park

Authorities believe the fatal fire early Wednesday was an accident.

Patrick Diller, head of community partnerships for Pallet, discusses the Pallet Shelter Pilot Project last June in Everett. (Katie Hayes / Herald file) June 29, 2021
State laws prompt changes in Everett city rules for shelters

The city is considering revisions to issue permits more quickly for emergency shelters.

Most Read