Serving Franklin County, WA

Traffic to get worse regardless of tolls

The Interstate 405 and state Highway 167 toll lane experiment is losing money.

Now, the state Transportation Commission is considering increasing tolls by up to 80% to $18 each way on I-405. The increase will cost an I-405 commuter, using the lanes at peak toll periods, around $720 per month or $8,640 per year.

If you travel the entire Highway 167 and I-405 corridor you could see a toll of up to $54.

The state Department of Transportation fiscal report for the tolling project shows a loss of $1.4 million in 2022 and is expected to lose money again in 2023. The toll lanes, according to Transportation’s original goals, were supposed to pay for new projects in the I-405 corridor. Instead, they are costing the taxpayers money to run.

Along with the increase in tolling, the Transportation Commission is considering raising the minimum toll to $1, extend the tolling window until 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Additionally, tolling weekends from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. is under review.

Since the beginning of the program, the toll lanes have been a problem for commuters.

Transportation chief Lynn Peterson, who oversaw the toll lane project and was fired by the state Senate, claimed the “toll lanes aren’t just for wealthy people.” For a person earning the 2021 state average salary of $81,245, $8,640 represents over 10% of their income.

This is in addition to the inflated car tabs and property taxes.

The toll rates are set by a combination of algorithms, or as Transportation refers to it, “fuzzy math” and reviewed by a traffic engineer looking at traffic cameras and the congestion on the corridor.

That is why the tolls can vary widely by time of day and congestion levels.

For drivers unwilling or unable to pay the tolls, congestion will get worse in general-purpose lanes as drivers, who up to this point have been able to pay $10, will now be relegated to the slow lane increasing congestion.

State Transportation Commission Chairwoman Reema Griffith calls the toll lane experiment, “A significant failure”.

The Legislature and Department of Transportation have failed to provide a reliable system and instead has focused billions of taxpayer dollars on options that represent less than 5% of the trips taken in the state.

Since the pandemic, transit ridership has fallen by 30%-40%.

Not everyone can or will take transit.

Transportation officials need to wake up and realize that we can’t toll our way out of congestion.

While tolling options give some drivers that can afford it, a faster commute, Washington needs to build more general-purpose capacity in the I-405 and Interstate 5 corridors to support the 6 million anticipated residents (1.8 million new residents arriving in the state) in the next 25 years.

Without the additional capacity, the problems will only get worse, regardless of toll rates.

— Mark Harmsworth is the Small Business Center director at the Washington Policy Center. Email him at [email protected].

 

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