Toll express lanes for the northern half of the Puget Sound area's Interstate 405 should go into effect in late 2015.
Craig Stone, assistant secretary for the Washington State Department of Transportation's toll division, said Thursday that the Washington Transportation Commission is thinking about announcing proposed tolls and exemptions in early 2015. Stone told the state Senate Transportation Committee that the commission would then hold public meetings to get feedback.
Northbound and southbound express toll lanes are under construction on I-405 on the 17 miles from Lynnwood southward to Sixth Street in Bellevue. The $383 million project is expected to be finished in the fall of 2015.
"We have a very serious problem with congestion, and it's going to get worse," said Kim Henry, WSDOT's I-405 project manager. At 60 miles per hour, a vehicle can travel that distance in 17 minutes. But congestion has at times turned that same 17-mile journey's time into 69 minutes.
With toll lanes available, drivers will be able to choose to stick with the main traffic for free, or pay to take an express lane. Carpools would need a new Flex Pass to use the express lanes for free. License plate cameras and Good To Go passes would be used for other vehicles whose drivers decide to pay the tolls.
The amount of the tolls would depend on how fast the main traffic is going. For example, if the mainline traffic is flowing at 45 mph or more, the toll to use an express lane would likely be less than $1. If the mainline traffic is flowing between 25 mph and 45 mph, then the toll might be a few dollars. If the traffic is flowing at 25 mph or less, then the toll could be even higher.
Flashing roadside signs would tell drivers what the current tolls would be at that specific time to take an express lane to a specific exit.
Similar systems with minimum and maximum tolls based on traffic speeds and distances are in use in several places, including Orange County, California; part of the D.C. metropolitan area; and Miami. The Transportation Department says on the project's website that the tolling will create more reliable trips, reduce congestion and provide funding for further improvements to I-405.
Correction: Croscut originally reported a wrong price tag for this project, and has corrected the figure.