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Tolls, SR 99 tunnel tolls
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Traffic patterns begin to emerge with tolling in SR 99 tunnel

The SR 99 tunnel.(MyNorthwest photo)

We’re just over two weeks into tunnel tolling. It’s a little too soon for definitive answers, but some patterns are emerging.

We’re still in that feeling-out period, where drivers are choosing different routes and finding what works best for them. It’s going to be a few months before they settle into their new normal. Here’s what I have seen so far. I have noticed a lot earlier start to the I-5 northbound commute from Southcenter into Seattle. I have also noticed that morning drive has been heavier than normal, though the Washington Department of Transportation said its traffic counts on I-5 are in the normal range. I have noticed that the 99 corridor has been wide open most mornings through the tunnel.

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“It’s too soon to say what the trends are, but we are definitely seeing a pattern emerge,” said Seattle’s deputy director of downtown mobility Meghan Shepard. “Fewer vehicles in the tunnel and more vehicles on surface streets, especially Alaskan Way and continuing up north up Elliott.”

The state was preparing for up to 35 percent diversion from the tunnel. The first few commutes with tolling in effect saw diversion over 20 percent. Shepard said that has stayed consistent. “It’s down 20 to 30 percent, depending on the time of day,” she said.

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It’s way too soon to say what the transit numbers look like, just two weeks in, whether some tunnel drivers have decided to jump to a bus or the light rail. Shepard said the traffic management center has been tweaking signal timing to match demand to try and keep the grid flowing smoothly. Uniformed police officers have been used to keep key intersections moving too.

“Just so they could help and respond really, really quickly if we saw a chokepoint that we were unable to respond to otherwise,” she said.

As we enter the holiday season when traffic usually lightens up, now would be a good time to test a new route or try a new mode to get to work. The congestion through downtown is only going to get worse. You should try some options as an early New Year’s resolution.

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