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Report shows spike in accidents since implementation of I-405 toll lanes

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SEATTLE -- Drivers who use Interstate 405 every day have shared quite a few frustrations since toll lanes were put in. But now it's not the cost, but the growing number of accidents that are raising questions.

Every day thousands of people get behind the wheel and come face to face with traffic.

“It takes a long time to get anywhere,” said motorist Steve Duffield.

New express toll lanes have gone in on Interstate 405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood, with tolls ranging anywhere from .75 cents up to $10. That’s spelling relief for some motorists, but not others.

“It’s cut my commute down 15 minutes each way,” said Duffield.

“It’s getting difficult to get to work every day, like in the morning, especially during the peak time. And I travel on 405, it’s worse. Even with the toll lanes, it’s not any better,” said motorist Phani Tathimani.

On average, every day 100,000 people drive in each direction on that 15-mile stretch between Lynnwood and Bellevue.

A new 9-month report released by the Washington Department of Transportation revealed that accidents along that I-405 corridor were up 55 percent since the new express lanes were implemented last year.

“That's surprising. I haven't seen them,” said one motorist.

According to the report, most of the collisions happened right beside the express lanes in regular freeway lanes. 80 percent of the crashes were low-speed, fender-bender collisions that happened during peak commute times.

Nicolle Walsh of Lynden emailed KOMO News to say she was in a three-vehicle accident on I-405 last Friday around noon. Walsh said the traffic was heavy, stop and go. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Ben Ellis emailed to say he sees accidents all the time during his commute from Mill Creek to Bellevue. He’s concerned about what what happens around the Express Toll Lanes.

Mark Leth, the Assistant Regional Administrator for Traffic Operations at Washington State Department of Transportation explained the increased percentage of accidents.

“Those first three months we got hit by a lot of weather on top of changes on the roadway and more traffic,” said Leth.

Leth said the large number of accidents was driven in large part by “horrible weather. The worst weather on record.”

But that’s not all.

“The bottom line is, there’s more traffic on this corridor prior to the express toll lane. We’re moving more vehicles in the corridor. It comes into play along with the collisions too,” said Leth.

WDOT officials said the number of accidents along I-405 dropped after the first three months after the express toll lanes were activated.

“We hope that trend will continue. We've made a lot of improvements on that stretch of road already,” said Leth.

According to Leth, those improvements include better signage and opening up the access points to allow more people more room to get in and out of them.

A big question some people have -- if the hefty 10 dollar tolls could have pushed more people away from the express lanes. Some motorists wonder if that bumped up traffic congestion in the regular lanes, leading to more accidents.

“There's no correlation that we have at this point,” said Leth. “We wouldn't know if it's because people aren't willing to pay or not.”

Leth said the expess toll lanes are getting a lot of usage.

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“They’re running pretty much full in the single lane section and running pretty full even in the duel lane section,” said Leth.

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