Traffic is light on first 'work day' of 520 Bridge toll

SEATTLE -- The new 520 Bridge toll got it's first major test on Tuesday, as throngs of drivers headed back to work and school after the long holiday weekend.

Officials from the Washington State Department of Transportation say the new fee is causing a "major shift" in traffic patterns, with far fewer drivers choosing to pay the toll.

WSDOT numbers show that traffic on Tuesday morning was down a staggering 45 percent on the bridge, while traffic on neighboring I-90 saw a 25-percent bump.

"I mean, I'm sure it will get more crowded. It's just going to happen because people are going to try to avoid (the toll)," said driver Allie Beuel.

The increased traffic on I-90 is especially irksome for those who work or live on Mercer Island and have no choice but to use the busy highway.

"I'm going to start my days earlier and go home earlier. I'm definitely going to make some changes," said Matt Ness, who works on Mercer Island.

The state says it will keep a close eye on traffic patterns and make changes if necessary, but Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said it's unlikely the 520 Bridge toll will be reduced.

"We have to pay our debt service," Hammond said. "We have borrowed a lot of money and started construction. The tolling has to pay for a billion dollars of corridor construction. That's the bottom line."

Hammond said the days of the federal government paying 90 percent of Washington's freeway bills are long gone, and tolling will likely become a large part of how money is raised for future projects.

On the flip side, those who bought their Good to Go tolling passes are thrilled with the new traffic patterns.

"Time is money," said Marilyn Shuman. "To cross it, piece of cake."

At a recent news conference, Hammond also said she's in favor of adding tolls on I-90 to even out traffic patterns, but that won't happen until the state legislature and the federal government act on it.