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I-405 improvements could be delayed under trimmed-down budget plans

Express toll lane in operation at Canyon Park. (Photo courtesy of WSDOT/Flickr)

Let’s go back to pre-COVID congestion in our minds. Think back to all that congestion, all of that frustration.

You remember the stretch between Lynnwood and Bothell in the morning. Jam-packed. Not moving. The Express Toll rate at the maximum $10.

Now think of your drive home, grinding to a halt as you approached Highway 522 after losing that northbound lane.

That stretch of I-405 was always the worst-performing section of the express toll lane system because it has fewer lanes and less capacity. Shoulder driving north of Canyon Park was added in the afternoon to provide a little help. Plans to fix the 522 interchange and add a second express toll lane were moved up in the budget to get relief to drivers a little faster.

Those plans are now on hold, marked by a three-year delay under the budget proposals we discussed Wednesday. Certainly, nothing is concrete at this point in the budgeting process, and things can and do change.

But Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson told the Legislature this week that the delays would hurt the region.

“These projects are integral to the future success of our region,” she told lawmakers. “Funding for these improvements will pave the road to rapid recovery for our region and the entire state of Washington.”

Bothell City Councilmember Mason Thompson told both the state House and Senate transportation committees that this would not only delay the widening of the freeway, but also the improvements on Bus Rapid Transit, which was approved by voters in ST3.

“In 2019, the Legislature authorized the bonding of toll revenues to fund improvements to 405 and prepare for the delivery of badly needed Bus Rapid Transit,” he reminded lawmakers. “The budget proposal before you delays that bonding and completion of those improvements to 2027, putting into question when or whether BRT will be deployed on the corridor.”

Plans for new center freeway stations for buses, parking garages, and other transit improvements could be delayed along the corridor, if the budget passes as written.

Senator Steve Hobbs said with toll revenue down so much, there just isn’t the money to go around.

“I’m sorry about the 405,” he said. “The bill that we had before was predicated on toll revenue.”

As we’ve discussed before, the I-405 express toll lanes are still running way below pre-pandemic levels. Toll revenue on I-405 was off 80% last year, and that money goes directly back into the corridor.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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