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Chokepoints: 451 additional lane miles needed to fix region’s congestion

(MyNorthwest file)

When you’re stuck in freeway traffic on any given day, you’ve probably wondered why the state just doesn’t add more lanes to increase capacity and reduce congesiton.

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It’s the first thing people want to ask State Transportation Secretary Roger Millar.

“You hear from your constituents, and I hear it from people, ‘just add a lane, get that HOV out of the way, and let me drive, we can solve this,'” Millar told the House Transportation Committee in Olympia.

He addressed the recent study that shows the average commute time between Everett and Seattle on I-5 is 94 minutes. It’s a drive that should take you about 30 minutes.

If the state wanted to build it’s way out of the congestion so everyone could drive at the speed limit, what would that look like?

“It’s 451 additional lane miles of highway — estimated cost of $115 billion. And if we built that over 20 years the gas tax to do that would be somewhere between $2.20 and $2.50 a gallon,” Miller said.

But that’s only to fix congestion as it stands today. That price tag doesn’t factor in the reality that we’re continuing to grow at an incredible rate.

“It assumes no growth in population or employment. So if we wanted to solve congestion and do a 20-year program, we probably have to add 30-60 percent to that to address the growth in the demand on the system.”

Even if the state had that kind of money or the political will to build that many new freeway lanes, the cities connected to those freeways would have to keep up to handle all the new demand.

“If I-5 was 18 lanes wide,” Millar said, “once we got you to the off-ramp you’d have to build the city street system to absorb that traffic.”

Imagine 18 lanes of I-5 trying to spill into the existing Mercer Street off-ramps.

If building our way out is not what the state wants or can do, what is the solution? Millar said his agency will work on using our roads more efficiently, adding limited capacity where it can and thinking differently about congestion.

That portion of his presentation was light on details.

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