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WSDOT addresses longer travel times in wake of tunnel tolling

Drivers in Seattle's SR 99 tunnel. (MyNorthwest photo)

In the days leading up to the start of tolling in Seattle’s SR 99 tunnel, there were concerns that drivers opting not to pay for the tunnel would be pushed on I-5, slowing down an area already crowded commuter corridor. WSDOT played down those concerns in a recent blog post.

Traffic patterns begin to emerge with tolling in SR 99 tunnel

“The number of vehicles using I-5 during the first two weeks of tolling on SR 99 were within the normal ranges for this time of year,” it stated, blaming what appeared to be an uptick in recent I-5 traffic on “a number of factors, including weather, blocking incidents such as collisions or stalled vehicles, and even special events.”

That being said, observed traffic since tolling began appears to counter those claims.

“This doesn’t follow the anecdotal analysis I have seen over the first month on I-5,” KIRO Radio traffic reporter Chris Sullivan noted. “I have noticed the morning starting earlier and being thicker than it was before tunnel tolling, especially on the I-5 northbound trip between Southcenter and downtown Seattle.”

“It appears that many drivers are getting an earlier start and using I-5 as a primary alternate to the 99 corridor,” he added.

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

According to WSDOT, roughly 77,000 drivers used the tunnel on most weekdays prior to tolling. Since tolling began on Nov. 9, 20,000 fewer vehicles are using the tunnel daily. That makes for a 26 percent drop.

While that 26 percent dip is under the 35 to 50 percent decrease WSDOT had originally planned for, those 20,000 daily cars have had to go somewhere.

“I trust WSDOT’s traffic counts, but what I have been seeing each morning appears to show a little more impact,” said Sullivan.

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