AASHTO Journal, 19 August 2016
Washington state drivers who have been paying tolls for a faster, more predictable trip in the Interstate 405 express toll lanes will soon see that money reinvested back into the corridor, as strong toll receipts allow a project to move forward sooner to help unclog a bottleneck.
The Washington State Department of Transportation said it will accelerate a plan to add capacity on northbound I-405 near Bothell, by opening the right shoulder between State Route 527 and Interstate 5 to all vehicles during peak period commutes. The Legislature initially funded that project with an expected opening date in 2018.
However, with more drivers than originally forecasted using the express toll lanes, WSDOT said Gov. Jay Inslee urged it to pursue options for using toll receipts to provide traffic relief faster. Legislators have now committed to speed project completion to next summer, it said, so WSDOT is moving forward with construction plans.
“WSDOT has done excellent work to put this important project on a fast track, and I appreciate the bipartisan effort to make this happen quickly,” Inslee said. “The dollars generated by commuters on the corridor are being invested right back in the area that needs improvement the most – and we are bringing relief to commuters six months ahead of schedule.”
The Seattle Times reported that since the express lanes opened last year drivers have paid $10 million in tolls, more than triple WSDOT’s forecasts for the opening months.
The agency said it has issued a request for qualifications from contractors for the $11.5 million design-build Bothell project, and expects to award the contract this fall with construction to start next year.
“When you are stuck in traffic you want relief as soon as possible,” Inslee added. “Express toll lanes have made the commute faster for most travelers, but a traffic chokepoint remains on northbound I-405 near Bothell and drivers need relief.”
WSDOT also said that with the express toll lanes, “more vehicles are moving at faster speeds in most sections of the 17-mile corridor. The exception is northbound I-405 between State Route 522 and I-5, where the lanes reduce from five to three in Bothell – creating a physical bottleneck for traffic that frustrates travelers on that stretch of roadway.”
Adding to that bottleneck, it said, is a busy SR 527 interchange, where nearly 1,000 cars an hour merge into the congested northbound I-405 lanes during the afternoon peak period.
“Drivers are telling us, by making 11 million trips in the express toll lanes, they want a choice to get out of congestion,” said Transportation Secretary Roger Millar. “The Puget Sound region is experiencing unprecedented growth and while the express toll lanes have shown to be an effective tool for managing congestion, it doesn’t change the fact that there is still limited capacity on our already congested highways. This project will provide much-needed relief, and we thank our legislative leaders for their commitment to speed up construction and bring this improvement to drivers six months sooner than planned.”