Women of Washington

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Transportation: Volume 1, Issue 8

I-405 HOT Lanes – The Revolt is on!

Eastside voters are now in the position to seriously impact transportation policy regarding the I-405 HOT (Managed Express Toll) Lanes. The Senate has heard the voice of the 30,000 signatures on the Stop405Tolls.org petition. The House of Representatives has not yet got the message.

We MUST get rid of the second HOT lane this Legislative session and convert it to a general purpose (GP) lane. If it does not happen between now and the end of the session on March 10, it will never happen. We will be stuck with this bad idea for ever and ever. This is a fundamental policy issue. Should we tolerate the policy of using state wide gas taxes to build a lane that the elite can buy their way into? The 2003 and 2005 state gas taxes were specifically approved by the Legislature (and the voters in a statewide referendum in 2005) for general purpose lanes on I-405. In 2011 the legislature changed the rules.

The Policy Question

The Senate held a hearing in January on removing one of the HOT lanes now and creating a fourth general purpose lane between Bellevue and Bothell. The House refused to hold a hearing; instead, the House sent a letter to WSDOT asking for band-aids on Feb. 2
(Band-aid Letter) . The Senate fired the Secretary of Transportation on Feb. 5, 2016. Governor Jay Inslee announced on Tuesday his support for the band-aides. Bill Bryant, Republican candidate for governor in this fall’s election said in a press release on the same day: “WSDOT should listen, ‘free’ one HOT lane into a general purpose lane…”. The Democrats have a two seat majority in the House. Several of those Democrats are in Eastside Legislative Districts (1 st, 21st, 44th, 45th, 48th, 41st, 11th), all of whom are up for election this fall. We have some political power, if we will use it.

Watch out for the concept of letting this process go on for two years to 'stabilize the toll revenue' so WSDOT can sell bonds against the toll revenue stream. That would mean WSDOT would never be able to add additional capacity to the corridor, as that would remove the incentive to pay the tolls, interrupting the bond-holders revenue stream, which would be prohibited by the bond-holders. WSDOT and Rep. Judy Clibborn (D, 41st District, Chair of the House Transportation Committee) in the Legislature are promoting selling bonds on this revenue. That would be a disaster!

Between Bellevue and Bothell (160th St.) we had 4 GP lanes in some sections (northbound north of 520, northbound between 85th and 124th) and now we only have 3 GP lanes. The legislature 'stole' those 'auxiliary' lanes between interchanges and moved the striping to create the second HOT lane. WSDOT added a lane between those auxiliary lanes. If there is any benefit in this mess, it is because of the added capacity – it has nothing to do with tolls or the 'managed express toll lanes'.  WSDOT needs to add a GP lane north of SR 522. NOW. Obviously, we need more capacity north of SR 527 to I-5.

The Operations Question

What to do with the remaining single HOT lane is open to discussion. I support leaving it as 3+ during the peak periods to allow bus transit reliability. Free in the evenings and weekends and 2+ in the off peak is fine. There is plenty of room in a single HOT lane for all of the peak period 3+ carpools, vanpools, buses and extra space to sell to those who want a faster trip.

Increasing the GP lane capacity by one third, from three to four continuous through lanes, would resolve the bulk of (but not all of) the current peak period GP congestion in both the northbound and southbound directions. This would mean that the price in the HOT lanes to ‘buy in’ should go down drastically. Nevertheless, we know that 2+ in a single HOV lane does not work in the peak period, as it breaks down all over the region, and did in this section prior to September.

A single northbound HOT lane in the south section would eliminate the NB HOT lane congestion at SR 522 because fewer buy-ins will be there. WSDOT would adjust the pricing algorithms to keep the single lane going at 45 mph 90 % of the time. There really is a good reason to do this. A freeway lane at 45 mph carries at least two times as many vehicles per hour as a lane with 20 mph traffic in it. That's the "boomerang curve" (WSDOT's operating speed vs. volume per lane per hour curve) effect and it is real.

Sign the petition on the http://stop405tolls.org/ web site. Let’s get that 30,000 signatures up to 50,000 before the 2016 Leg. Session is over.

Call your legislator. Particularly the House Democrats from the Eastside Districts. Do it today.