Expert: How Washington’s toll lanes help low income communities

Oct 30, 2019, 9:54 AM | Updated: 4:54 pm

tolls, ETL, toll roads...

The I-405 toll lanes in Kirkland. (WSDOT)


A recent study sought to discover how toll lanes like the ones implemented on Washington’s 405 freeway affect low-income communities. And while it those communities are the ones who most often can’t afford the toll lanes, one expert argues that they benefit everyone.

Todd: Tell Me I’m Wrong: If you drive in the toll lanes, you’re hurting poor people

Gordon: Congestion tolling should be based on why you’re driving

“(Drivers) are voluntarily choosing to subsidize the operation and the construction and the maintenance of (tolling lanes) for other people,” Washington State Transportation Center Director Mark Hallenbeck told KIRO Radio’s Candy, Mike and Todd Show. “From an equity perspective, that’s a really good thing.”

The study — lead by Hallenbeck and a team of student fellows at the University of Washington — came to a few conclusions. First, that high income households use the I-405 toll lanes more often, but low-income communities pay higher tolls.

That’s driven by the fact that lower-income communities travel more during peak periods, when tolls are higher. Those same communities also don’t use the lanes as frequently, comprised primarily of one-time users over the course of 2018.

Despite paying more and using the lanes more infrequently, Hallenbeck argues that low-income communities still benefit overall in terms of saving time on their trips.

“There are days when even though they don’t have nearly as much money as other people do, they see it in their financial interest to buy in to a better trip,” he described. “The fact that they don’t do it very often make sense because they don’t have as much money. But they actually gained more per trip in terms of travel time savings than people who actually have higher incomes.”

Basically, low-income drivers don’t benefit as often from the toll lanes, but they still save more time per trip.

SDOT unveils early research on congestion tolling in Seattle

That reasoning is justified by simple math — higher income drivers using the toll lanes outside of peak hours don’t save as much time with fewer cars on the road causing congestion. But that frequent use from people who can afford to regularly use the lanes also helps everyone.

“The good thing about all those people who are mostly higher income using it in the middle of the day, is they’re subsidizing the [lower-income] people,” said Hallenbeck. “You’re paying for transit. You’re paying for new shoulders. You’re paying for a lot of things, so that’s a good equity transfer.”

Candy Mike and Todd

guns, assault weapons, gun, 1639, 1639 gun initiative, gun tax...

Mike Lewis

Mike: We should not restrict guns but their owners are different story

If you are a commercial pilot or general contractor likely you understand the value of licensing; So why not license gun owners?

3 years ago

snow day...

MyNorthwest Staff

What’s better for kids: a school snow day or a two-hour delay?

The recent snow fall stirred up a debate: What's better for kids, a snow day or two-hour delay?

3 years ago

shoveling snow...

MyNorthwest Staff

Candy: Everyone should shovel snow as a chore

Shoveling snow is a unique experience here in the Pacific Northwest. Here are five reasons everyone should shovel snow as a chore.

3 years ago


Todd Herman

The theft of parental rights in Washington state is unconscionable and immoral

Quoting a law passed in Democrat-controlled Washington state originally designed to make sure girls could get secret abortions, insurance companies have been writing to parents informing them they no longer have any rights to be involved in crucial, life-altering decisions their kids want to make.

3 years ago


MyNorthwest Staff

Guilt tipping has got to stop

We are seeing tipping pop up in unusual places. I've seen new tip lines at a craft store, clothing store, and a 7-11 in the last few months.

3 years ago

Space Needle fireworks, New Year's Eve, seattle baby...

MyNorthwest Staff

Tell me I’m wrong: Everyone should have a New Year’s resolution

What is preventing us from reaching our fitness goals the rest of the year? KIRO Radio's Candy Harper weighs in.

3 years ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Expert: How Washington’s toll lanes help low income communities