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WSDOT promises fix to daily Renton to Bellevue mess

Platforms to hold the new SR 167/I-405 Direct Connector flyover ramp under construction. (WSDOT)

Drivers on I-405 and State Route 167 in Renton have seen quite a change in their commute over the last year as phase two of the express toll Lane system began construction.

Setting the ground rules for HOV lanes

The columns are poured and the fly-over ramps are really taking shape at the interchange in downtown Renton.

If you’ve forgotten the plan, the Washington State Department of Transportation is connecting the HOT lanes on 167 directly to the HOV lanes on I-405. Drivers in those northbound 167 lanes will no longer have to merge over two lanes to access I-405.

Drivers on I-405 southbound won’t have to merge over two lanes to access 167. They will have their own dedicated lanes. Eliminating all that weaving should improve the congestion through the Renton S-Curves and the daily chokepoint on northbound 167.

Building those direct access ramps is the beginning of phase two. Work will continue as crews widen I-405 between Bellevue and Renton. Another lane will be added along that stretch. It will be combined with the existing HOV lane to create a two-lane express toll lane, extending the one that currently ends in Bellevue. There will be two toll lanes and two general purpose lanes in that section.

Once open in 2025, I-405/167 project head Kim Henry said the commute that you experience today will be completely transformed.

“We will really see a difference at the day of opening that’s like night and day,” he said. “It is going to be essentially free-flow within the express toll lanes and almost free-flow within the general purpose lanes.”

Drivers in the general purpose lanes will still see slowing near Coal Creek Parkway and in south Bellevue but nothing like drivers experience today.

“There will be a few hot spots here and there, but for the folks that have been traveling that every day it’s going to be an unbelievable difference.”

Of course, all of this is based on the express toll lane system being extended. So far, the Legislature has not taken up the future of these lanes, despite their failure to meet both benchmarks set by lawmakers. There is a legal dispute over what benchmarks the lanes needed to meet to justify their existence. They made plenty of money, but they failed to produce a 45 mile an hour drive, 90-percent of the time. Some people believe the law required the lanes to meet both for them to stay. Others argue the lanes needed to fail both criteria.

Bills regarding the I-405 tolling have been blocked by Democrats from even having hearings.

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