CHOKEPOINTS

Tolling revenue on some roads returning to pre-COVID levels

Nov 1, 2022, 5:02 AM | Updated: 10:21 am
Mukilteo ferry...
Traffic lanes leading toward the new toll plaza for the Mukilteo ferry, housing four tollbooths and seven holding lanes. Traditional tribal welcome figures, designed by Suquamish artist Kate Ahkavana, welcome all who enter by land. (WSDOT/Flickr)
(WSDOT/Flickr)

Drivers have been saying for months that we are rolling at pre-pandemic on our roads, especially on the roads that need tolling revenue, and now we have the data to back that up.

It’s quite clear that our traffic volumes are close to matching our pre-pandemic levels. When the Washington Department of Transportation stopped tracking the daily data, we were only 3% from March 2020 levels, and data collection stopped in July.

Most drivers will tell you that there is no doubt we are back, but not all roads are created equally. It has taken more time for some tolled facilities to come back. We’ve talked about the 99 Tunnel and the 520 Bridge remaining well below pre-pandemic levels, but that’s not the case on I-405 and Highway 167.

Snow is coming, is WSDOT ready to keep the passes open?

Like clockwork, we usually hit the $10 max on southbound 405 out of Lynnwood about 7:45 a.m. each morning. By my stats, we hit the max 17 of the 21 commuting days in October.

State tolling director Ed Barry unveiled the latest stats to the Washington State Transportation Commission last month.  “We see similar to 2019 volumes in the 167 HOT lane in August of 2022, and almost the same amount of express toll lane traffic,” he said.

According to the latest stats, the 405 toll lane is not quite back to 100%, but it’s close.

What about the revenues?

For 15 straight months, starting in March 2020, the toll revenues for 405 came in at less than $1 million. The 2019 forecasts had been expecting between $2.5-3 million a month. The revenues from 167 were expected to be double of what they were generating, but Barry said that is turning around.

“We can see that, from a revenue perspective, both 405 and 167 are at or exceeding some of the updated June 2022 forecasts,” Barry said.

So, where does this leave us on funding the ongoing tolling expansions on 405 and 167?

Deputy State Treasurer Jason Richter told the Transportation Commission that an influx of cash from the legislature last session has kept the funding for those projects in the green.

More from Chris Sullivan: West Seattle Bridge traffic volume not back to pre-closure levels

“Things have changed quite a bit, mostly because of the legislative appropriation of $268 million from Move Ahead Washington,” he said. “That’s coming early enough in the project that it’s allowed us to push back some of our bonding to a time where there’s higher projected revenue.”

So that means the projects currently on the board are still considered “funded.”

Here are the latest timelines. The widening of 405 between Bellevue and Renton should be finished in 2024.  Adding a new toll lane between 522 in Bothell and 527 should be done in 2026, and the complete overhaul of the 167 HOT lane system should be finished in 2025.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Tolling revenue on some roads returning to pre-COVID levels