There are any number of criticisms for the new I-405 toll lanes. But, according to Lynn Peterson, secretary of Washington State Department of Transportation, class envy is not one of them, no matter what assertions Dori Monson makes.
“What every single express toll lane that’s opened throughout the entire country has found is that this is not about a class issue,” she told Monson. “Because people’s time, whether you’re making affordable wage or not, is worth a lot and people want to pay that 75 cents to improve their quality of life.”
WSDOT announced in early October that accidents all along I-405 were up. The Washington State Patrol followed that with its own report saying collisions are on pace to be lower this October than last. The state patrol’s numbers came in stark contrast to calls from Dori’s listeners, plus traffic reports, of major accidents and lane blockages on I-405. Dori said that if those numbers are true, then perception is a long way from reality.
Peterson said the numbers are showing a decrease in collisions occurring on the I-405 corridor, but that the WSDOT will continue to monitor and make sure that they are minimizing confusion with the new toll lanes.
“But that is not the only variable out there and we don’t control all of the variables out there, including people’s behavior,” she said.
Dori, an outspoken critic of the I-405 toll lanes, agreed with that sentiment. He said driver’s behavior is a major variable in the gridlock — most notably that drivers don’t feel much sympathy to those people who fly through the express toll lanes and then try merging over to the off-ramps.
“We have very passive-aggressive drivers around here … in Western Washington,” Dori said. “They don’t want to let them in, and so somebody will almost come to a dead stop in the toll lane and someone will plow into them at 50 miles per hour. I’m hearing these stories from my listeners almost daily, Lynn, and they’re nervous. And they say that this is becoming a really dangerous corridor.”
Peterson said integrating the change will be a slow process and that drivers need to be patient and treat one another with respect on the highway.
“There are people who, at the beginning, when it was first open, were confused about where to enter, where to exit, how to use the facility,” she said. “So we will continue to ask for people’s patience and we will continue to monitor it.”
Dori said it’s more than just knowing when to exit and enter, and that class envy is among the frustrations of drivers who can’t afford an extra $500 or $1,000 each year for a Good to Go! pass. That would mirror some of Dori’s own frustrations: That when a private company works with the government, there’s economic incentive to create as much gridlock as possible to drive people to the toll lanes. Dori called it a convoluted, profit-based way to manage.
Peterson attempted to assuage Dori’s concerns, saying that WSDOT runs the toll system, while the contractor only provides the maintenance. She said congestion is an inherent problem in all major metropolitan cities across the nation, not just in the Puget Sound, and that the express lanes are there to provide another option to aid in lifting the congestion.
“Are there revenues off of that? Yes,” she said. “But they go right back into the corridor and they go right back to the operation of the system.”