Transportation Commission mulling I-405 tolling options

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- It's not a matter of if tolling will come to Interstate 405, it's a matter of how much the tolling will cost.

The first recommendations were shared Wednesday with the Washington State Transportation Commission at Kirkland City Hall. There, political leaders representing 10 cites shared their recommendations with Commission members.

Tom Cowan, the Vice Chair of the Washington State Transportation Commission, drives I-405 and knows how slow it can be.

"It took me an hour to go eight miles on 405," he said.

Commuters who use the interstate regularly hope something can be done to relieve the congestion, but few say they're in favor of a toll.

"I'm not a big proponent on tolls,"said commuter Josh Arnold.

The state plans to relieve 405 congestion by adding one or two so-called Hot lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood, then eventually from Bellevue to Renton. Hot lanes are toll lanes, similar to the ones on State Route167.

The idea is that drivers will pay to use the lanes during peak hours, which would free up other lanes. It's up to the state's Transportation Commission to figure out how to pay for their construction and maintenance by setting toll rates. But first they're getting input from the public, the DOT and Executive Advisory Groups.

Cowan says in addition to tolling, gas tax revenue will help pay the project's $334 million price tag.

At Wednesday's recommendation meeting, which was the first of a series, commissioners heard from an Executive Advisory Group made up of various city leaders. Members suggested gas taxes for funding and immediate construction, and also urged the Commission to consider phasing in a proposal to increase 405's minimum Hot lane occupancy from two to three riders.

EAG member and Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride asked the Commission to consider restricting the Hot lanes to vehicles with three or more people only during peak hours, but to keep those lanes free to the two-plus crowd during off peak hours.

"It's also an elegant transition to our citizens that are used to two plus free," said McBride.

Drivers would be charged based on distance traveled in the Hot Lanes and the cost would fluctuate depending on real time demand.

Many drivers in Kirkland wondered with a toll on the 520 Floating Bridge, a possible toll on the I-90 crossing and now Hot Lane tolls on I-405, what would happen to traffic on Interstate 5.

"I think that's going to cause a lot of backups on other highways or back roads and I-5," said commuter Josh Arnold. "It will cause a lot more traffic an is not going to help anything in the area."

The Commission intends to set toll rates for I-405 by July 2014 with tolling starting in mid 2015.

More information about the project is available online.