How Washington has managed its toll roads during COVID shutdowns

Sep 1, 2020, 7:52 AM
tolls, ETL, toll roads...
The I-405 toll lanes in Kirkland. (WSDOT)

I started tracking revenues from toll roads, along with the revenue losses at Sound Transit, Metro and the state ferry system, once it became clear that the pandemic was making a serious dent in their finances. Toll roads in Washington are still seeing 29% less use today than on September 1 of 2019, but that’s a vast improvement over where they were after the initial stay at home orders went into effect in March.

By far the best performers continues to be the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which is only seeing single-digit decreases over last year, and the 167 HOT lanes, which are also seeing a single-digit dip.

I-405 and SR 99 saw 80 to 85% drops in use in April. They have since recovered a little bit. SR 99 is still off by 65%, and I-405 is off more than 40%.

So what does this mean for the bottom line?

Total revenue for 2020 is just under $179 million, which is an 18% drop over the 2019 revenue forecast.

But the silver lining here is this: After the cratering through the first quarter, the state revised its revenue forecasts based on COVID usage, and the toll roads actually outperformed that revised forecast.

School zone cameras

Listener Andrew reached out to me over the weekend and asked me about the school zone cameras in Seattle. He wondered if the city was going to be using the cameras to enforce the school zones, even with most kids learning remotely.

Since April, there have been 20 active school zones, where the 20 mile-an-hour speed limit was being enforced. That’s because those schools were being used as food pickup spots.

I asked the Seattle Department of Transportation if the school zones would be active, despite no active learning or kids on campus. The city says the cameras will be active and the speed limits will be enforced.

But it sounds like it will only be at a certain number of schools, not all of them. The city is waiting to hear from the school district for list of schools that will need the enforcement, where kids will be be there and where meals are being picked up.


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How Washington has managed its toll roads during COVID shutdowns