Critics believe toll rates for express toll lanes on I-405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood is just a money grab by the state, and that this is just the first step to tolling and changing the HOV requirements for every road.
The tolling model is gaining popularity around Washington state as a way to pay for projects and manage congestion, but Paul Parker, deputy director of the state Transportation Commission, said you shouldn’t expect widespread changes to the HOV system.
“We don’t expect that in the near future. We haven’t had that indication from the Washington State Department of Transportation, but as we add more and more people to the area there will be a need to keep an eye on how these HOV lanes are working and operating,” he said.
The tolls are going to be steep, costing drivers between 75 cents and $10 to drive in the new express lanes that will open later this year. The typical toll expected to range from 75 cents to $4.
“Is it going to pay for more highways or maintenance?” asked KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.
Most of that money won’t pay for new roads. As much as 75 percent of the collected tolls will merely pay for the tolling system itself. It’s basically a pricing model aimed at modifying congestion.
Critics argue it’ll only ease congestion for buses and other modes of mass transit, and that the system is relying on headaches for drivers.
“Currently, the HOV lanes are failing on six out of 10 days that they operate,” Parker said. “Those lanes were built with federal money and the federal government requires that they remain free flowing at a speed of 45 mph hour or greater.”
KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson said, “This proves that the state of Washington, the Department of Transportation, as well as the private company that’s going to be operating this system – they have a financial incentive to create as much gridlock as possible in the three general purpose lanes because that’s the only way anybody’s going to be willing to pay these outlandish tolls.”
The Transportation Commission also voted to increase the HOV requirement from two people to three people during the peak rush hours of 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Everyone who uses the new toll lanes will need to get a new Good to Go pass called a Flex Pass. It will allow drivers to switch between HOV and toll modes to make sure they’re being tolled at the appropriate times.
But AM 770 KTTH’s David Boze points out that a 2012 study by Cambridge Systematics found 2-plus HOV lanes perform slightly better than 3-plus, as first reported by KING 5. The study also found that the WSDOT could make 25 percent more in revenue with 3-plus HOV lanes.
“The goal of congestion pricing is to help make commutes more predictable and help control traffic. Or at least that’s the theory. But the sense you get from the state’s plan for I-405 is they want to screw you over for more money,” Boze concluded.
Don’t even consider putting a stuffed bear in the back seat because the Washington State Patrol is expected to launch a major enforcement effort to make sure there are no cheaters using the HOV lanes.
KIRO Radio’s Chris Sullivan contributed to this report.