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Michael Medved

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Rantz: WSDOT creates traffic, engineer blames cops for it

Traffic on southbound I-5. (MyNorthwest photo)

Traffic is awful by design, particularly on I-90, and now the people responsible are blaming law enforcement agencies. It’s rather ridiculous, it’s certainly pathetic.

RELATED: WSDOT creates traffic, then charges you for relief

State and local leaders, along with their transportation departments, do their level best to get you out of your cars. They don’t want you driving because it pollutes the environment and, for some, they don’t like that you can afford a car whereas others cannot; they dislike your privilege. And, they’re not done making your commutes horrible, but they can’t do it too openly or you’ll stop them. So, they blame others for the problems they caused.

KIRO 7 spoke with the lead engineer who designed the digital signs that hang over I-5, I-90, and SR 520. Eric Shimizu designed these signs to offer variable speed limits that change with conditions on the freeway. If there’s a crash up ahead, the speed limit will change to a slower number, for example.

The system cost a whopping $42 million. I’ve never noticed it work. I drive from Starfire in Tukwila to Seattle once a week and the speed limits never match the conditions ahead because the conditions are always the same: congested. No accidents. Just congestion made worse, perhaps, because you’re slowing down cars on a freeway, causing frustration and keeping cars on the road longer than they need to be. In other words, it’s designed to keep the status quo.

But according to KIRO 7, Shimizu believes the congestion would be better if more law enforcement officers enforced the speed limits. This makes very little sense.

Congestion would actually be better if WSDOT stopped purposefully making the congestion worse by attempting to socially engineer people to ditch their cars.

RELATED: Embarrassing auditor report identifies WSDOT incompetence

First of all, putting cops on patrol in already-heavily trafficked lanes will make congestion worse. It turns out when a cop pulls someone over, it slows the traffic around the stop.

But second of all, people are already speeding less. In fact, Shimizu argues the point of these variable speed limit signs is “too slow people down in those areas.” It’s working. On I-90, KIRO 7 reports, speeding tickets are down significantly. Yet traffic is worse on I-90. Why? Design.

Take, for example, the new HOV lanes on I-90 that offer up less space for single drivers. According to KING 5:

Drivers headed from the Eastside to Seattle will notice a new HOV lane, but the express lanes are now permanently closed.

The closure of the express lanes is happening as crews prepare to continue construction for Sound Transit’s East Link Light Rail.

By adding the HOV lane, WSDOT made the shoulder of the road much smaller, so now if a car has problems and needs to pull over while on the I-90 bridge, it may be taking up a portion of one lane when it stops. Lanes were squeezed to make room for the new HOV lane.

What’s more likely to blame for congestion on I-90: lack of law enforcement on speeders or literally all the things WSDOT has done to make it more difficult to drive on the freeway?

Shimizu is offering up nothing more than a propaganda campaign. He’s deflecting your attention to cops, which seems silly since I doubt many of you will take the position that we should offer up more tickets to commuters trying to get to work on time or home at a reasonable hour. But, to be fair, I never claimed these silly tactics are good ones.

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