What’s your best bang for the buck in the toll lanes?

Signs show the rates for using the express toll lanes for traffic headed southbound on I-405 in February 2016. (AP File Photo)

Signs show the rates for using the express toll lanes for traffic headed southbound on I-405 in February 2016. (AP File Photo)

The higher the toll rate, the more time you’re likely to save by driving in the I-405 express toll lanes — at least, if you’re going the full 15 miles.

Drivers who paid a $1 toll to use the express toll lanes during peak commute hours between January and March saved an average of five minutes of travel time compared to folks in the regular lanes, according to WSDOT reports.

For every dollar the toll rate increased, drivers saved about another minute and a half. When tolls were at $10, drivers saved about 20 minutes on average.

But is it worth it? That depends on how you value your time.

Let’s break it down another way:

Low end: $1 toll, five minutes saved = 20 cents per minute

Southbound average: $3.14, 11 minutes = 29 cents per minute

Northbound average: $3.44, 14 minutes = 25 cents per minute

High end: $10, 20 minutes = 50 cents per minute

This is for folks who drive the full 15-mile corridor in the toll lanes. The benefits look a bit different if you’re not.

From Highway 522 in Bothell south to Bellevue, the state added an additional lane and uses it as a second toll lane. The number of lanes remained the same at the north end, between Highway 522 and the I-5 interchange in Lynnwood, with one lane for tolling.

Coming north into Snohomish County, five lanes of traffic now squeeze into three.

Drivers heading north in the afternoon saved six minutes compared to the regular lanes in the dual-toll lane section and eight minutes in the single-lane section. Roughly speaking, that meant a driver going the full 15 miles was paying 57 cents per minute in the dual-lane section and 43 cents per minute through Snohomish County up to I-5.

In the morning, going south, the averages worked out to 45 cents per minute from I-5 to Highway 522 and $1.05 per minute in the dual-lane section heading into Bellevue.

All of these numbers are based on travel before the northbound shoulder was open to drivers north of Highway 527.

Shoulder driving, which started in April, has helped relieve some of that pressure for the afternoon commute — and toll rates have followed.

Lawmakers will soon be looking at whether the toll lanes in general are worth it, as WSDOT prepares its two-year report.

Melissa Slager: streetsmarts@heraldnet.com, 425-339-3432

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