CHOKEPOINTS

Is it time to raise the max toll rates to keep traffic down?

May 16, 2023, 4:55 AM

max toll rates...

Should the max toll be raised to 15 dollars? Should SR 167 and I-405 share the same tolling rates? (File Photo)

(File Photo)

Our KIRO Newsradio listeners get a little chuckle when I make a kazoo sound when the Interstate 405 toll hits the $10 max between Lynnwood and Bellevue, but it’s time to start asking a very serious question. Is it time to raise the max toll rates?

Let’s start with why I make that funny kazoo sound when we hit the $10 maximum. I do it as a gentle reminder to all the people who told me the toll rate would rarely hit the max as it was about to open. We hit it almost every morning.

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As I-405 is expanding, as well as State Route 167, the time has come to discuss the toll rates and the maximums. The discussions are just getting going since the express lanes from Bellevue to Renton won’t open until 2025.

The updated tolling on SR 167 begins in 2025 too. One thing the toll division knows is the $10 max on I-405 and the $9 max on SR 167 are not doing the job. Too many people are still using the toll lanes during peak congestion.

Should the max toll be raised to $15? Should SR 167 and I-405 share the same tolling rates? Is it time to change the 2-plus or 3-plus requirements for being HOV?

Let’s look at the data being revealed today at the Washington State Transportation Commission. 57% of drivers using southbound I-405 during the peak morning commute are free/HOV or paying the minimum $0.75 per trip in the express toll lane. 8% are paying that max of $10 per trip.

For southbound SR 167 in the peak afternoon hours, 80% of trips are free/HOV in that High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane, and the toll division knows a bunch of drivers are abusing the HOV rule there. 6% are paying the max $9 per trip.

That’s the long-term discussion going on now, but what about the current conditions of our five-tolled facilities? How are they performing?

The toll roads took a huge hit during the pandemic as our commutes disappeared, and the state lost a lot of revenue those tolls were expected to generate.

As it stands today, toll road usage is still down 4%, and so is revenue. Another $3.9 million expected between October and March did not come in.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the I-405 express lanes are running close to their projections and forecasts.

The SR 167 HOT lanes are down nearly 16% from those latest forecasts — that’s $400,000.

State Route 520 is still down over 12%, or about $4 million below forecasts, but from what we have seen over the last two weeks, I expect SR 520 revenue to come back quickly.

The one surprising corridor is the State Route 99 tunnel in Seattle, with revenues up over 7%. They came in nearly $1 million higher than anticipated.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Is it time to raise the max toll rates to keep traffic down?