Interstate 405 — the freeway that forces many Eastside businesses to plan their hours around traffic congestion — will see a change later this year, as Express Toll lanes come online between downtown Bellevue and Lynnwood.
But will Eastside drivers be willing to pay up to $10 at peak use for the opportunity to zip past other drivers at 45 mph? That’s what state transportation officials will find out in the upcoming weeks.
The Express Toll lanes would limit the leftmost lane for single drivers willing to pay an electronic toll and carpools, and the charge to single drivers will fluctuate depending on the amount of traffic at the given moment. The change applies to one lane southbound and two lanes in the northbound direction.
The cameras that will enforce the tolls have already been installed in the southbound direction, and work to install the northbound toll cameras will be installed in the freeway through downtown Bellevue started this month.
Eventually, the state plans to expand the system on the entire length of I-405 and to connect to the express tolls on State Route 167, though the funding for the Bellevue-Renton portion has not yet been approved.
The proposal includes a range of tolls for single drivers, including 75 cents for the minimum toll and $10 for the maximum toll. The proposal also allows three passengers or more during peak times and two-passengers during off-peak, since the HOV lanes already are full with the two-passenger requirement.
According to the state, the tolls collected will pay for future I-405 projects.
The state has had electronic tolling — Good to Go — for several years and State Route 167’s HOT lanes and State Route 520 bridge are already tolled completely electronically, though the system has not been glitch-free. This week, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the state for problems with billing on 520’s system, according to one local news report.
Still the move to increase transportation funding and ease traffic congestion through tolls is catching on throughout the country. Maryland last year opened express toll lanes in Baltimore, and Colorado’s slick E470 website, on the express toll lane system through Denver, touts several contests for free tolls.
The Washington State Transportation Commission plans to take comments about the proposed toll rates over the next few weeks at meetings in Bellevue and Kirkland, and accepted online. The final rate will be voted at a March 18 meeting at Kirkland City Hall.
But the state has already received some criticism of the plan from drivers posting to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s official blog, suggesting that the new system will turn into “Lexus lanes” for the drivers who can afford it.
“Wow, isn’t that cool elitist toll lanes for the rich who can afford to pay extra. What about the rest of us peons? We sit there in our old cars watching the elites race by, shades of Hunger Games and Elysium,” one commenter wrote.
Still, the state maintains that studies show that people of all incomes use the express toll lanes when they need to, even if a driver doesn’t use it every day.
Not all of the blog comments were critical, however.
“I moved here from Texas and utilized the toll roads there on a daily basis. I believe that any high traffic cities should have tolls. It helps with congestion and allows you more time in your day,” another wrote. “Yes, the tolls will cost you and can quickly add up quickly but so can the cost of gas. You will save greatly on gas by utilizing the tolls.”