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Only a matter of time before changes to I-405 cause ‘something nasty’

Ford and Chevy drivers use the I-405 express toll lanes the most. (WSDOT)

With the way things are going on I-405 since the addition of the express toll lanes, it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens, KIRO Radio’s Chris Sullivan said.

Collisions on I-405 more than doubled during the opening week when compared to the same week in 2014. There were 119 collisions between Canyon Park and Lynnwood, as compared to 48 collisions.

Sullivan noted that the data includes a 4-mile stretch that does not have the new express toll lanes. The express toll lanes on I-405 have officially been open for one week, giving traffic officials and police a peek at how drivers are responding to the new system.

Related: What problems drivers are having in the new I-405 express toll lanes

The biggest issue related to the toll lanes seems to be the double white lines. Troopers stopped 372 cars &#8212 222 of which illegally crossed the lines. Trooper Chris Webb says there is also some concern regarding drivers transitioning from the general purpose lanes to the toll lanes during peak travel times.

“My concern is that somebody is going to start … essentially from zero miles per hour to another lane going 60 to 65 miles per hour,” he told Sullivan. “That’s not a good recipe. That’s going to have some huge impacts if there is a collision.”

Sullivan said that the Washington State Department of Transportation has not reviewed the numbers to find out the nature of each collision. For example, collisions could be the result of drivers crossing the double white lines when they weren’t supposed to, or if drivers were not slowing down soon enough to avoid rear-end collisions.

“Drivers have to learn how the system works,” Sullivan explained. He said a combination of people not understanding the road, not paying attention and possibly some design issues could turn into “something nasty.”

Improved drive times

Data following the opening week wasn’t all about collisions. Commute times are improving overall, which was the ultimate goal of the express toll lanes.

“Every day is different and each driver has a different experience,” said Washington State Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Craig Stone. “Overall, last week’s I-405 travel times have been lower than they were a year ago.”

While the traffic times decreased on I-405, in comparison to the same week in 2014, volume on I-405 increased by 9 percent over the past year, according to WSDOT.

WSDOT also reports that the previous I-405 HOV lanes averaged 1,600 cars per hour. During the opening week of the new express toll lanes, they were carrying approximately 2,400 vehicles an hour.

Related: Drivers might not be warming up to I-405 tolls lanes

Despite higher volumes, commute times showed signs of improvement.

“Other than the first two days of these new express toll lanes &#8212 the first day it was an hour from Lynnwood to Bellevue, and Tuesday was a nightmare, it was an hour and 15 [minutes] &#8212 it’s been about 40 minutes in the general purpose lanes, which is way below the average for that stretch of road. In the express toll lanes, it’s been 20 [minutes],” Sullivan said.

The average toll for the southbound express lanes during the morning commute was $1.50, while the northbound lanes during the evening commute was $1. The highest toll charged during the week $3.75.

The highest volumes on I-405 occurred during peak commutes on Oct. 1. About 14,000 cars were counted in the southbound express toll lanes on Thursday morning. That evening, 12,000 vehicles traveled in the northbound direction.

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