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Express lanes and tolling could be the future of Eastside corridor

This visualization shows the type of two-lane express toll lane that WSDOT is considering for I-405. - WSDOT
This visualization shows the type of two-lane express toll lane that WSDOT is considering for I-405.
— image credit: WSDOT

The state Department of Transportation on Friday released a study on creating tolled express lanes along the entire Eastside corridor spanning Interstate 405 and State Route 167.

The analysis, ordered by the state legislature, shows that express toll lanes would improve traffic performance and generate revenue to help pay for the system.

Overall, the proposed plan would convert the existing I-405 high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane into a two-lane express toll system that connects with the SR-167 high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, creating what WSDOT calls a "seamless expressway within a freeway."

The plan would require bonding against future tolling revenue, an entirely new and risky form of investment.

An advisory committee made up of elected officials from 12 cities along the corridor have recommended moving forward with the first phase of the plan, which would create express toll lanes on the north end of the corridor from Lynnwood to State Route 520 along I-405.

The state legislature must first authorize tolls for I-405 and allocate savings from past projects along the corridor before WSDOT can begin work on the proposed plan.

Federal approval is also needed to operate I-405 as a tolled highway.

Work on the north end of the corridor would start this year, with tolling beginning in 2013.

Fees would vary throughout the day to control traffic flow based on congestion. Planners are looking at tolls that would fluctuate between $2.80 and $8 per trip by 2020.

Carpoolers with at least three people per vehicle could use the toll lanes for free.

WSDOT would complete the project in phases, paying for the first segment with savings from past projects along the Eastside corridor while funding the second portion in part with tolling revenue from finished sections.

According to the proposed plan, WSDOT would begin construction on the north end of the corridor this year and open the segment to tolling in 2013.

WSDOT would then study the program to determine whether it warrants tolling along the remaining portion of the corridor, which could be converted for tolling by 2018.

HOT lanes are already in place along SR-167, where the state has been running an $18 million pilot project since May 2008.

Speeds in all lanes along that system have increased by up to 10 percent despite a 4-percent uptick in traffic volumes, according to WSDOT.

Through public-outreach efforts, WSDOT has learned that some people are skeptical about the benefits of express toll lanes, while others don't like the idea of requiring three riders be in a car to use HOV lanes.

The most ardent opponents of the tolling proposal prefer that all lanes be used for general-purpose.

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