I-405 toll lanes have collected $44.5 million in revenue in two years
OLYMPIA, Wash. - The express toll lanes on Interstate 405 celebrated their two-year anniversary in September. It was a pilot project state lawmakers had authorized for two years - but it’s still going.
But in a two-year report, the Department of Transportation gave evidence to to the State Transportation Commission on Tuesday, as to why it's staying put.
The report says $44.5 million has been collected at the two year anniversary marker. That total consists of $37.9 million in tolls, $1.8 million in Good to Go! pass revenue, another $1.5 million in other revenue and what may be a surprising number for some, $3.2 million in civil penalties.
“The revenue numbers are higher than expected for sure,” said Ed Barry, Tolling Division Director for the WSDOT.
One of the success goals set by the legislature was to collect enough revenue to pay for toll collection and administering the tolling project. It did way more than that.
According to WSDOT, operation costs for the two years were $15.7 million, which left a profit of $28.8 million dollars that, by law, must go back into road project in the I-405 corridor - which stretches from Lynnwood through Bellevue to Renton.
“This has nothing to do with, ‘we are making the roads better,’" said David Hablewitz, co-founder of Stop405Tolls.org. “It has everything to do with, ‘hey look at this cash cow,'"
Another important milestone for success set by the legislature was to keep the toll lanes moving at a minimum of 45 miles per hour at least 90 percent of peak travel periods during the morning and afternoon.
Officials told the Commission that has been happening over the last six months in at least three out of four segments of the tolls lanes.
State numbers show the threshold is happening 94 percent of the time in all northbound lanes and 96 percent of the time southbound between Bothell and Bellevue.
But, southbound between Lynwood and Bothell it’s happening only 63 percent during peak periods. Officials told the commission the additional shoulder lane during peak hours northbound, between Bothell and Lynwood that opened in April. helped improve northbound speeds.
Southbound doesn’t have the additional shoulder lane for general purpose traffic and that’s why the speeds are much slower officials told the commissioners.
“WSDOT is cherry picking some of these numbers, they are looking at portions of the freeway that look great,” said State Representative Mark Harmsworth (R-Mill Creek), who has been a vocal critic of tolling.
Harmsworth said the DOT has been ‘disingenuous’ in how its presenting its information.
“They are also claiming they have higher throughput on 405 because of the tolls and that's just the case,” he said.
The report say 69 percent of those tolled paid a rate between the lowest toll at $0.75 to $4, and 20 percent paid between $4 and $8. The state had said the maximum $10 toll would be a rarity when the project started.
After two years, 11 percent of people tolled paid between $8 and $10. The state reported 19.9 million tolled trips during the two-year period, and the average toll during peak periods was $2.82.
“Right now it's failing and the only way to get the speeds is to increase the tolls even further,” said Harmsworth.
He said state lawmaker will debate raising the maximum cap on tolls which is currently $10. With money to be made for road projects, it will be hard for lawmakers to overlook the profitability of the express lanes while searching for money to pay for schools.