Temporary changes to I-405 express toll lanes become law

BOTHELL — A temporary change that has allowed cars, trucks and motorcycles to travel in the I-405 express toll lanes for free on nights and weekends since March is getting cemented into law.

The state Transportation Commission on Tuesday approved changes in the rules for tolling the 17-mile stretch between Lynnwood and Bellevue that it put in place on an emergency basis.

Commissioners agreed in March to limit toll collection to weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. On weeknights, weekends and six major holidays, the express toll lanes are free and open to all traffic. No transponder or Good to Go! pass is required during those periods.

The free holidays are New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

State lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee requested commissioners act in response to drivers frustrated by a string of operational challenges they encountered since the lanes opened in September. Among the concerns had been increased congestion weekdays on a stretch of northbound I-405 through Bothell and on weekends in the general purpose lanes while the express lanes were empty.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Assistant Secretary of Transportation Patty Rubstello told commissioners that since the change took effect in March those weekend tie-ups have gone away.

In the meantime, Rubstello also provided commissioners with preliminary data on the use of the express toll lanes in their first nine months of operation.

Overall, use of express toll lanes continues to increase, she said. With more users, the toll rates are reaching the maximum $10 more often and for longer distances, she said.

It’s also led to the state collecting more revenue than predicted. Initially, the state estimated it would collect $3.14 million through May. Actual gross toll revenue was $10.56 million, according to data she presented.

While the agency analyses show drivers are shaving time off their commutes by using the express lanes, traffic traveling north through Bothell continues to be moving slower than before the lanes opened, she acknowledged. Part of the reason is that five lanes of traffic are merging into three in a relatively short stretch.

The current state transportation budget contains money to identify projects to reduce congestion and add capacity on the stretch of I-405 between Highway 522 and I-5.

There’s funding to begin making the hard shoulder on northbound I-405 into a usable travel lane between Highway 527 and the I-5 exit in Lynnwood. Construction could begin on this project in 2017, according to the transportation department.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com Twitter: @dospueblos.

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