Plan approved to remove I-405 tolls on nights, weekends

FILE photo: I-405

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington Transportation Commission unanimously voted Tuesday for changes to tolling on I-405.

Officials voted to remove I-405 tolling every night and on weekends, plus six federal holidays. It'll begin Friday, March 18 at 7 p.m.

The tolling on I-405 will only be on weekdays, Monday through Friday, from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Express toll lanes will be "open to all" and free at all other times.

"By doing 'open to all' on nights and on weekends, we think is the simplest message we can have out there," said WSDOT Assistant Secretary of Tolling Patty Rubstello.

But when the commute is at its worst, Monday through Friday between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m., the message hasn't changed. Tolls are not going away. It could still cost commuters who don't have a car pool of three or more up to $10 to drive the 17 mile stretch of express toll lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood.

"We think this is a good approach, it keeps those express toll lanes available during the commute period when people really need to get somewhere on time and get them out of that congestion," said Rubstello.

The commission used a legislative tool available to them known as "emergency rule making." The change in tolls is scheduled to last only 120 days to give the commission time to hold formal public hearings on make the changes permanent.

The fast track request came at the behest of the governor and state lawmakers who were feeling public pressure to provide some relief to commuters clogged in the general purpose lanes.

The chairwoman of the powerful House Transportation Committee agrees with the commission's decision but warn critics the state is just six months into a two year pilot project to test out the viability of toll lanes.

"It doesn't feel real efficient right now and I feel just as much as everybody else does, the frustration," said Representative Judy Clibborn, Democrat from Mercer Island. "I just want to make sure we continue to work on this because we want the general purpose lanes to work, not just the toll lanes".

The commission also voted to increase tolls on the 520 bridge by 5 percent on July 1st and another 5 percent on July 1, 2017. Night tolling would also begin on the 520 bridge in 2017. Originally, a 15 percent increase in the 520 toll was scheduled for this year but state revenue forecasters revised the need for more tolling money.

The Transportation Commission is the group that sets tolls on state roadways and bridges. It used to be that rates were set to pay off specific projects, such as the new 520 Bridge, but now toll increases are being used to control congestion.

In the case of I-405, the toll is intended to manage traffic to provide a reliable 45 mile-per-hour commute between Bellevue and Lynnwood.

The commission, however, learned that those lanes are earning more than three times more money than expected. The $10 maximum tolls have become more regular than rare, and there are new choke points in non-toll lanes.

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