Revealing the deceptions in WSDOT’s report on #405ETL 2-year performance

tolls

I sent the following letter to the Washington State Transportation Commission to prepare them for WSDOT’s presentation tomorrow.  WSDOT previously gave this presentation in October to a gathering of Eastside city council members.  The driving factors in the presentation appear to be: “Protect your career” and “Follow the money”.

__________________________

Members of the WSTC:

On Tuesday, Dec 12 you will be given a nearly 2 hour presentation on the performance of the I-405 Express Toll Lanes. I expect they will be giving a presentation similar to the one they gave at the I-405 Executive Advisory Group meeting in Bothell on October 17th. In that presentation WSDOT provided numerous misleading pieces of information and egregious conclusions. Your public comments period only allows me 3 minutes to refute their 2 hour presentation. I cannot do it justice in that time, so I will give you some explanation of the misleading facts that will likely be presented so that perhaps you could challenge their thinking.

1. A random video clip of I-5 vs I-405 used to claim tolls make I-405 work better.
WSDOT showed a video clip of I-5 going slow and then a clip of I-405 flowing faster, leading the lay person to the believe I-405 is better and tolls are the reason. While seemingly logical to the layman, this comparison to I-5 is completely invalid for many reasons that a more skeptical observer would catch, including:
1. Random video can be pulled from either freeway demonstrating any condition they wish to convey. This has absolutely nothing to do with scientific observation. This is simply to invoke FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) in their audience.
2. The countless variables that determine traffic speeds on I-5 and I-405 are not equal. Even the numbers of vehicles using them are different,
3. The HOT lanes on I-405 have a 2′-3′ separation with restricted access points whereas the HOV lane on I-5 has no separation and unrestricted ingress/egress with only a single white line. As a result, there is friction with the GPL, naturally inducing the HOV lane to move slower. In addition, the buses are mandated by regulations to stay within 15mph of the lanes beside them when there is no lane separation. In other words, the buses force the lanes to match the speed of the GPL beside it. To further exacerbate this, there are many times more buses on I-5 than I-405. The HOV lane is not build it to FHWA standards that require a 4′ separation from the GP lanes. If they were built to Federal code, the single HOV lane would flow much more freely.
4. I-405 has added direct access ramps and limited entry/exit points. This reduces the impact of the buses degrading the HOT lanes as they merge into/out of them. I-5 has a few, but not enough.
5. On southbound I-405, the 3 lane section is heavily congested which throttles the flow into the 5 lane section making it flow better.
6. In no case does charging money to use the lane influence the speed of the vehicles.
Again, the lay person wouldn’t know any of these factors, but WSDOT engineers should.

[This is the precursor for the legislature expanding tolling to I-5.
Misrepresenting such data is an insult to the transportation engineering community]

2. WSDOT claims I-405 is flowing faster now than before the tolls and concludes it must be because of the tolls.
In reality, the lanes are flowing faster due to several factors, none of which are from charging money to use them:
1. A 25% increase in capacity south of 160th St and 33% increase in capacity where they added hard shoulder running.
2. Greater separation from the GPL with the double-white lines (though still not the 4′ defined by FHWA).
3. Improved efficiency due to the restricted ingress/egress.
4. Direct access ramps were added.
5. Construction ended. For the 2 years leading up to the tolling, traffic was constantly disrupted due to construction with erratic striping, uneven pavement and construction activity.
6. Diversion traffic. As described by Mark Hallenbeck from UW Transportation department and confirmed by Inrix data, mobile apps are guiding drivers to use side streets, avoiding arterials where WSDOT monitors.
7. They have expanded the time defined as “peak hour” to make performance appear more favorable and to meet the FHWA performance requirements.
Again, any speed improvements achieved have nothing to do with drivers paying money to use the lanes. In fact, where tolling was implemented with no capacity change (the section north of 160th St), traffic got worse. When tolls were lifted at nights and weekends, traffic improved universally.

3. “Even 20 lanes won’t fix the problem.”
In their report WSDOT shows a 20 lane highway built in Texas and claims that even with 20 lanes it still fails and then led the audience to the conclusion that this proves building any more capacity is futile.
What WSDOT didn’t say in their presentation was that those lanes include frontage roads and EXPRESS TOLL LANES. If anything, this proves that ETLs are NOT the answer.
In fact, again they are making a completely invalid comparison.
First, Houston is the 4th most populous city in the country, many times the size of the Eastside even with projected growth.
Second, I-405 is the equivalent of a rural capacity freeway in the heart of a major metropolitan center with only 3 lanes each direction for about 20 of it’s roughly 30 mile length. This is the same capacity as when it was originally built in the 1960’s.
No one has ever suggested expanding I-405 to a 20 lane highway or anything even close. Just build the capacity as was identified 15 years ago in the Master Plan to upgrade this rural freeway to an urban freeway. This comparison to a 20 lane freeway is another tactic used by the presenter intended to evoke an emotional response by the audience. And it worked with the city council members at the EAG meeting because they don’t have the expertise to question WSDOT critically.

4. “WSDOT conducted a survey and the people responded that they like the tolls.”
This survey is riddled with sampling bias to try to prop up WSDOT’s case. They only asked people who have a GoodToGo Pass and left out the overwhelming majority of drivers who fill the GPL and never use the toll lanes. In their presentation, WSDOT states they also asked people who do not use the tolls. But those people still have a pass. What’s more, WSDOT claims that 60% of survey respondents approve of the ETL. This sounds good, but in reality that means that even 40% of the small portion of people who have a pass don’t approve of the toll lanes, not to mention all the drivers filling the GPL who hate them. This could be further manipulated by surveying people in Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland and avoiding people who live in Snohomish county.
For comparison, consider that a group of 5 activists collected 32,000 signatures in less than 3 months with minimal publicity and mistakenly used a petition website that many more people refused to sign on due to its political orientation. In spite of this, it was THE MOST SUCCESSFUL petition ever hosted on moveon.org for a local or even state-wide issue!

5. What they aren’t talking about:
They are not reporting the negative impact to trucking and freight which cannot use the ETL. Exports and trucking are a major portion of Washington’s economy.
– They ignored the increase in diversion traffic.
– They ignored the increase in collisions and quit reporting on them after the first quarterly report was presented because accidents had increased by over 50%.
– They ignored the fact that carpooling has been decimated, increasing the solo drivers on the road.
– They ignored the fact that Snohomish County residents are paying nearly all of the toll revenue with $10 tolls while suffering with 3 lanes while Kirkland enjoys the $0.75 tolls and 5 lanes.
– They aren’t reporting the vast number of billing errors that customers are receiving. Even motorcyclists are getting billed repeatedly and have to fight to get the charges reversed.
– The toll lanes were paid for with GAS TAX money NOT TOLL REVENUE.
– Federal law as well as state law mandates that they be discontinued if performance requirements aren’t met for 180 days. Yet The toll lanes continue to operate even though they have been failing to meet the speed requirements since opened over 2 years ago.

Please use these points to ask WSDOT the hard questions. It is truly a travesty and a disservice to us all when equal time is not given to examine all perspectives and possibilities.
When everyone thinks alike, then nobody thinks. And group think is contagious so that soon everyone can be convinced to accept even what is absurd, like charging money to use a lane will make them all go faster.

______________________

Please help fund our cause to promote and raise awareness to this travesty.
Consider clicking the “Donate a toll payment” button at http://stop405tolls.org
And now is the time to call your state legislators again to demand removal of the tolls.  Click the “Find your legislators” link at the top of the page or visit http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/

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11 comments on “Revealing the deceptions in WSDOT’s report on #405ETL 2-year performance
  1. Sally says:

    They increased the peak hour? Not surprising…this is a tactic all the cities use to avoid concurrency regulations in the GMA. Do you know what the peak hour was and is now?

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  2. One of the engineers working with me reported they stretched AM peak to 11:00am. So it is now 5 hours long in the morning.

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  3. twingerter says:

    Are there sources to some of the assertions made in that blog post? It seems many of them are either unsubstantiated speculation or hyperbole. Re: #2 – what data source are these based off of that WSDOT doesn’t have? Does it matter that toll funds are funding 405 non-toll corridor improvements that ease congestion as well? How is it ruling out benefit from tolling entirely? For #3, is it refuting the entire concept of induced demand, or is there an actionable suggestion there? How do you reconcile the fact that the ETL moves more cars and does so faster and more often than the HOV lanes it replaced? In #5, there are just incorrect statements (citing an increase in SOV commuting, citing omission of data which is included in the congestion reports, etc.). Lastly, the assertion that it’s been a catastrophic failure its entire existence is also patently false. Much of its tenure was spent operating in compliance and there are concrete works in progress to address areas causing it to underperform (and the margin by which it underperforms is just a few percentage points away from compliance).

    Also, the whole blog seems full of two conflicting fundamentals. The arguments suggest some knowledge of the fact that carpooling and other non-SOV transit options are the key to reducing congestion, but protest any catalyst to that future. The update about the Renton HOT 3+ lanes, for example, laments the fact that the expansion does not construct any new general purpose lanes. That’s in stark contrast to the (baseless) criticism earlier about how the tolls increase single occupant commuting. Further, it cites WSDOT fear mongering to elicit an emotional response, yet appeals to viewers in the same way in other posts (https://stop405tolls.org/2017/02/04/are-30-tolls-in-seattles-future/). Traffic is the result of a bunch of people making selfish, short-term decisions. The sooner the collective acknowledges that and starts changing behavior to that end, the sooner everyone can realizing the benefits from the network effects. For example, I started using Scoop (takescoop.com/r/TIM9MC) to carpool so that I can have 3+ people at all times.

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  4. Charles says:

    I listened to a rep on KIRO (Dori’s show) Everything sounded great but then he said he was a Dummy’crat. If you idiots keep blindly voting for the LYING THIEVING CORRUPT POLITICIANS with D after their name NOTHING is gonna change and I suspect y’all want nothing to change to supply cover to Your POLITICIANS. Just a joke

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  5. lisawilkins says:

    Thank you for your continued work to stop the tolls! All they’ve succeeded in doing is making the surface streets a complete mess. Nothing else. How many revenue stream will ever be enough?

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  6. CallinYouOut says:

    Time to pack the bags and put this donkey show on ice…You have dedicated yourself for two years to a vanity project that has lost its steam. People are quick to agree with your assessments but only because they aren’t willing to investigate themselves. We all want things free and want low taxes and no fees. But what is your alternative? You have provided nothing tangible to the long term management of our highways and back roads. Shoulder driving and time of day tolls changes were obvious changes, what more do you suggest to get cars moving in all lanes and for the long haul? In the time since you started this blog more than 100k people have moved to the area. Your assessments of success of these tolls are not addressing the added load these new arrivals are having on the roads. You also refuse to project what removing the tolls will do over the long term. With 1000 people a week moving to the area, how does giving lanes back to the GPL and going back to 2+ carpool lanes sustain this growth? It doesn’t! What is your alternate plan to keep roads moving once tolls are removed? You have none! Keep pretending we didn’t have a gridlock problem on much of 405 before the tolls so that you can hang your hat on the tolls being the culprit now. We cant expand highways, something you and I agree on though for very different reasons. So how does King County grow from 2 million residents to 3 million residents by 2040 with this fixed infrastructure? Tolls are a stopgap measure to get people out of single cars. Your evidence that this doesn’t work does not have the capacity to look at their impact over long periods of time. We aren’t TX or FL, two states that aren’t limited in their geography by mountains and rivers and lakes to our extent. Tolls everywhere plus ST3 will keep traffic moving for 3+ vehicles, emergencies and single/2+ willing to pay when they absolutely need to be somewhere. All other times the GPLs are your only option, and they will be slow and they will suck. Tolls everywhere, followed by per mile car tabs are going to shake up this problem significantly. The millennials and their children wont believe like you do that solo drivers need protections. That’s a short sided, shallow minded, selfish answer to this problem. New housing being aimed at millennials has no parking but access to quality transit. They don’t care what grandpa or great grandpa think of that, its the reality. Name a new construction project that has adequate parking for solo drivers and I will fund your site for a year… The biggest problem you are incurring is the madness of your own perceived success. 32k have signed your petition, yet 60k people use the lanes each and every day. The balance of public opinion isn’t leaning your way in the slightest. Mark Harms will only continue to politic this and harm us in his selfish attempts…He too has no long term vision, cant see beyond the removal of ETLs to how his constituents will feel about more lanes now that don’t move people to where they are going at speed. Worst of all you have gotten so off topic that you cant find anything new to write about regarding WSDOT/ETL’s/Local issues only and now are adding the scare FUD of electric cars that catch fire? You think that momentum is slowing down due to a few car fires. Electric cars are not only cleaner, but on average are in less crashes due to modern automation software and other safety measure than the average gas car equivalent. There are a group of us that are fighting your every effort on social media groups as well as having real conversations with people on what the realities of transit and the future of highways will be in this area and few believe tolls are going anywhere or that your non solution to the problem will actually solve anything. We hit this site to know what needs to be debunked in the Stop405Tolls movement so we can easily counter it. Don’t choke to hard when you hear in a decade that toll lanes are for automated cars and transit only and that all of us idiots with cars will be stuck with a few packed lanes that are left. The part I cant let you live down is I asked you face to face if you would concede that anything positive is coming from the Toll lanes and you emphatically said no. That’s asinine. It shows you are shallow and childish on this topic and refuse to actually have a fruitful dialog. The lanes save lives and move ambulances to hospitals, keep bus routes on time, and provide an infrequent opportunity to get somewhere to all people even those with lower incomes.Driving your truck with the webpage link will be your greatest contribution to the commute issue, a bit of levity for those passing you in the ETL’s each day…Time to pack it in, pack it up.

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    • Wow, a lot of stuff there. I don’t think I have time to answer all of your questions. Some major points. First, Here is the list of solutions as proposed that the engineers at Eastside Transportation Association have compiled: http://bit.ly/eta405asolutions

      Second, I am a firm advocate of EVs, I have an electric motorcycle and I have gotten involved with SEVA. The video about the Tesla was just showing something I hadn’t seen before.

      Third, the single most effective way to get people out of their cars is to put them into someone else’s car. The 2-person carpool is absolutely the best way to do this. Yet WSDOT blocked 2-person carpools from the toll lanes, opening them up to SOVs instead. Three times more people ride in 2-person carpools than all of mass transit combined in Puget Sound. So when they show the greater increase in vehicles on 405 than other local highways, it is because they split up all the carpools. The HOV lane did not move slowly because it had too many cars in it. It was only carrying 1000-1200vph. A lane can carry 1500-1800vph before it degrades like it did. The reason is because the bus drivers are trained to drive within 15mph of the adjacent lanes if there is no lane separation. So the buses actually slow down all of our HOV lanes. Simple fix: put the 4′ lane separation between the HOV and GP lanes as prescribed by Federal Highway Administration.

      Fourth, it won’t matter what they do to “manage” the lanes if they keep a rural capacity highway in the middle of a metropolitan area. I-405 hasn’t been expanded from the original 3 lanes since it was built in the 1960’s. They already created a plan to complete the expansion to 5 lanes for the full length of I-405. They just haven’t done it.

      The collision rate rose dramatically as soon as they opened the toll lanes.

      You mention in the future the toll lanes might serve only autonomous vehicles and buses. Absolutely. But that can’t happen if they sell bonds against the tolls. To do so will lock the tolling in permanently and nothing can be done that would impact the toll revenue, even if they could better use the lane. The ACES technologies that are coming (automated, connected, electric, shared) are going to change the way transportation works.

      I’ll be happy to further the conversation over a beer.

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  7. JeffF says:

    ^^^^^Hahahahah, so true. That’s hilarious but on point. Single drivers in cars are doomed. Hating on the toll lanes only carries so much weight. I am pretty tired of the rhetoric personally. The only thing worse than tolls is pretending we would want to pay for the infrastructure programs to increase capacity of our highway. Plus the lanes are clearly a cash cow, no politician votes to stop income flows, only votes to figure out how to better spend the $$…

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    • Ironically, solo drivers are NOT doomed. The whole point of the toll lanes is to give them a way to bypass contributing to trip reduction. But there is no doubt about how politicians are viewing us as their goose to lay the golden eggs.

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  8. Mark says:

    i honestly think the state should look into expanding other roads like 202 or creating another corridor on the Eastside to help alleviate some of the congestion along with removing the toll lanes of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. […] Both federal and state law requires cars in the toll lanes maintain an average speed of 45 mph or faster, 90 percent of the time during peak periods. I-405 fails this requirement. (here). Furthermore, WSDOT apparently expanded the times labeled “peak periods” so that overall, the freeway met, or came closer to meeting federal standards. (here). […]

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