ETL Still failing 45mph after 2 years

This story just published by proves once again that charging a toll doesn’t make cars go faster.  Adding capacity does. Note that they don’t even discuss what is happening in the general purpose lanes.
And contrary to what WSDOT State Tolling Director Ed Barry claims in the article, diversion traffic is definitely an issue. In fact, Mark Hollenbeck made this point in a radio article on NPR where he explained how mobile apps like Waze and Inrix are guiding people on the back roads that avoid the arterials, which is where WSDOT measures diversion traffic. (See my article about NPR’s story with a link to the NPR audio)
That the tolls continue to reach $10 on a regular basis and that the 45mph federal requirement is still not being met ensures that toll prices will only rise and even as they do, they will continue to fail to improve congestion across all lanes.  Ironically, the purpose of the 45mph requirement for toll lanes (it is NOT a requirement for HOV lanes) is to protect performance for the HOVs. Clearly, it is failing. What is even more concerning is that WSDOT isn’t talking about the increase in collisions that happened since the ETL were opened.
As I have pointed out before, there are 4 ways to reduce congestion:
1.  Increase capacity
2.  Reduce demand
3.  Improve efficiency
4.  Change how you define Congestion
All WSDOT is doing is trying to change how they measure congestion. They even fudged on the method they measure to review performance driving from end to end.  They don’t look at real trips that may only use a shorter segment of the lanes.  Also, they are defining “peak hour” as the 4 hour period in the morning and evening, instead of a shorter length as defined by federal guidelines.  If they used the shorter period, it would show that they fail a much higher percentage of the time.
It is time to end the tolls and move on with finding legitimate solutions to traffic congestion.
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6 comments on “ETL Still failing 45mph after 2 years
  1. M. Sansone says:

    PLEASE stop this joke!!!!! Now they’re working on a straight mileage charge, great.


  2. Dwight R Schaeffer says:

    Its time to talk about throughput (passengers/hour) rather than congestion, ideally applied on a system level (all roads to a particular destination), but at least for all lanes of I405.

    Dwight Schaeffer


  3. Garrett says:

    It’s because tolls are artificially capped at $10. Raise that cap to the appropriate level and traffic in the toll lanes will flow. For those who don’t want to pay, you always have the option of three people to a vehicle or riding a bus.

    And adding capacity absolutely does not make traffic faster in the long run. It’s called induced demand and it has been studied extensively–adding lanes just means more trips will be taken to fill the increased capacity.


    • Kevin Crowe says:

      Well the premise of the express toll lanes is based on capacity so if you feel they are working you must also subscribe to the idea that increased capacuty helps. The idea behibd the express toll lane or HOT lane is that you sell off the unused capacity in the HOV lanes. In order for this to work there has to be available capacity to sell. This capacity is available through the Kirkland area and WSDOT is quick to show how well it is working there ( with no real baseline given that the added capacity opened as toll lanes) The area between Lynwood and 522 Where capacity is capped the toll lanes have been a disaster. The express toll lanes are performing far worse than the original HOV lanes and the general purpose laneshave showed no real benefits. The sum total is worse performance and that area is a baseline because the only change was HOV to Express toll lanes. No change in capacity. As for increasing the toll that will have at best short term performance gains in the toll lanes with even worse overall performance. WSDOT even admitted that the area north of 522 is at capacity and the tolling algorythems and rates are and will have little impact. In the end it is about capacity. You can only fill WSDOTs diaper so full. As for three or more car pools are you a part of one? If so congratulations and thank you. If not well I would be curious how hard you tried to establish one. Two person car pools are reasonably easy to negotiate but 3 is excecptionally more difficult and often impossible. At the 3 person point you are better off with a community van pool assuming there is one in your community and you can work with the schedule. For many this is impossible between family and varying work schedules.

      Finally probably the clearest reason tolls are not trafic solutions is because tolls are a bussiness. If you dont generate some level of demand for the toll lanes it will cost money to operate so in order for the tolls to be be maintained they depend on congestion. There is now a motive to maintain a level of conjestion. If bus and mass transit were to become effecient this is actually a risk not a benefit. The only reason the tolls are still active after failing the two year requirement is because they did not fail the revenue side of that requirement. If they met the performance standard but failed the revenue I can guarantee you they would have been unplugged the next day.


  4. CC says:

    This is a joke David. You can have a 4 point plan, but remember that when you go to figure out how to pay for it that your alternatives are no better and not cheaper. There is an estimated 1 Billion per mile just in land buy back and infrastructure changes to widen 405 by one lane on each direction. At best we can squeeze 8-10 total lanes in the current space North/South. So adding a total of 2 lanes gets use ~20% increase in capacity. So we spend 27 Billion to expand 20% just on prepping the space, and likely another $10 billion or more on the actualy construction of the new lanes the length of 405. With 1000 people moving to the area each week, how long before we reach capacity of your new lanes? And what is your idea for how to reduce demand? Please detail that and detail efficiency and define congestion. You are making half a point here and I am interested what the other half of the thought is you are trying to convey. Do we build a 20 lane highway, go double decker? And how many billions of dollars to achieve your goals? This seems like your goal is to pull back something you don’t like that costs hundreds of millions and replace with something that will cost Billions….is my math off? Or yours?


  5. Yes, your math and logic are way off. Where do you get this idea of 20 lanes? No one is proposing or projecting that. Even in NY metropolitan area with 7 times the population of the Puget Sound region and a density as high as 50,000 people per square mile doesn’t have a 20 lane highway. What is part of the I-405 Master Plan that was researched and designed by WSDOT called for 5 lanes in each direction, like we already have from Bellevue to Bothell. Currently we have a rural highway capacity in an urban environment, which has never been upgraded since it was first built about 50 years ago. This is the fundamentals before doing a bunch of flashy, expensive, tactics that have already proven to do nothing to relieve congestion. How do we reduce demand? How about starting with promoting the single most effective and least costly mode of trip reduction ever devised? That is the 2-person carpool. 95% of the vehicles using the HOV lane were 2-person carpools. Now they have been replaced with 85% Solo drivers in the HOT lanes. Most carpools have split up since they no longer benefit from being a carpool, adding cars to the problem. What I find most entertaining is that WSDOT has stated “we can’t build our way out of congestion.”, and throw up their hands. Then add 2 miles of hard shoulder running and it relieves the problem. And that you ask of me “Please detail that and detail efficiency and define congestion” but no one is asking that of WSDOT who *should* be able to do that. Toll lanes do not reduce congestion. They just push it from one lane to others. See the slideshare for more details at


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