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SR 99 tunnel tolling
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Tolling on Seattle’s Highway 99 tunnel put to first commuter test

Tolling begins in the SR 99 tunnel. (WSDOT)

Tuesday is the first full day of traffic with tolling on the 99 tunnel through Seattle. What should drivers expect as they are faced with paying for their trip?

Tolling begins in Seattle’s SR 99 tunnel: What you need to know

The state is expecting up to 35 percent of drivers who don’t want to pay the toll to divert. That’s thousands of cars going somewhere else.

The Washington Department of Transportation’s Patty Rubstello said that’s about the same percentage of diversion we saw when tolling went active on the 520 bridge.

“When we started tolling 520, people did try different routes,” Rubstello said. “It took about six to nine months for people to really settle into a new form of commuting.”

Traffic is still down about 17 percent on the 520 bridge, even eight years after tolling started.

Where will those people avoiding the tunnel go? Rubstello said they will be watching everywhere to figure out new patterns.

“We have an extremely intensive monitoring program that we’ve worked with our partners on to collect a lot of data so we’re going to know what’s happening on all the different major facilities,” she said.

Seattle’s Director of Downtown Mobility, Heather Marx, said the city is ready to handle the diversion as best as it can.

“We will absolutely be prepared to press the button so that those additional traffic timing plans can go into effect,” Marx said.

Those include tools like real-time signal-timing changes, uniformed police officers directing traffic at key intersections, and temporarily removing parking from roads that are taking a lot of diversion.

Your best bet, according to Marx, is to pay the toll.

“If you are traveling through downtown Seattle, the tunnel is always going to be your best route,” Marx said. “Our surface streets are at capacity.”

It comes down to deciding  what your time is worth.

“In my estimation, it is not worth your time to try to make your way through downtown on surface streets,” Marx said.

The max toll during the morning commute is a $1.50, if you have an active Good-To-Go account. It will be $2 more if you don’t.  The most expensive time to use the tunnel is during the afternoon commute. The max toll between 3-and-6 p.m. is $2.25, with a Good-To-Go account.

If you are avoiding the toll on Tuesday or plan to in the future, please tell us which route you are taking. You can use the 97.3 KIRO FM text line, 98973, @KIROTraffic on Twitter, or leave a comment below.

I’d really like to know where you’re going.

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