CHOKEPOINTS

Should the state increase the maximum price for the I-405 toll lanes?

Jan 5, 2017, 7:30 AM | Updated: 8:47 am
I-405 tolls, toll revenue, harmsworth, express toll lanes...
The I-405 express toll lanes have a maximum toll set at $10. (WSDOT)
(WSDOT)

We’ve consistently hit the max toll on I-405 during morning commutes, even around the holidays, when there were fewer cars on the road.

So how long before the state considers raising the $10 maximum toll to keep the lanes running as fast as possible?

This has been a concern since the tolls were implemented in September of 2015, but the concern is growing because one of the key benchmarks of the express toll lanes is slipping. Drivers are not hitting the 45 mph threshold 90 percent of the time, which is one of the requirements for keeping the toll lane system in operation.

Report: Seattle can’t handle more vehicles, SDOT director says

The chokepoint on northbound I-405, where we go from five lanes to three is at least partially to blame.

Is pricing more people out of the lanes the solution?

The Washington State Transportation Commission is in charge of setting the toll rates. The commission’s Executive Director Reema Griffith says raising the maximum toll rates is a “last resort action.”

“They have really asked the department to diligently scrub every option and approach that can be taken to address some of the challenges that they’re seeing along the express toll lanes and really the corridor,” Griffth said.

The work to improve drive times on I-405 includes speeding up construction of the second toll lane between Bothell and Lynnwood. Right now, that isn’t even on the schedule for at least a decade and isn’t yet funded. That change, though, would have to come from the Legislature.

Griffith says commissioners would need significant persuasion to raise the toll rate.

“There’s gotta be a real cause-and-effect for them to go there,” she said.

And despite what many in the public believe, the goal is not to raise as much money as the state can. It is to make the I-405 corridor run smoother.

“It really isn’t about trying to charge people more, as much as we need to just get the lane working,” Griffith said. “If there’s a hiccup ten days out of every three months or whatever that ratio is, we need to look at that problem and solve it. And in most cases its more of a mechanical-operational issue than it is a reflection of the rates.”

Expect to hear lawmakers in Olympia ask whether raising the maximum toll on I-405 is a viable option this session, but don’t expect the transportation commission to rush to make changes.

Tell Chris about a Chokepoint or ask a traffic question @kirortraffic via Twitter.

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Should the state increase the maximum price for the I-405 toll lanes?