Traffic News
3:47 pm
Tue January 3, 2012

520 Tolls – Drive around or pay? Many are driving around

Today is the first big day for car commuters since automatic tolling went live on the 520 bridge across Lake Washington.

It’s viewed as the start of the first really meaningful data-set for people who crunch numbers behind the scenes of the State Department of Transportation.

So far, the commute has pushed traffic to the south, with the I-90 bridge seeing more congestion … and more room created on 520, where drivers now have to pay to cross.

During the morning commute, WSDOT says the system worked they way they expected …at one point, traffic on the 520 bridge was down by about a third (37 percent).

WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond faced a whole flock of cameras and microphones at a news conference. She says it will take months before engineers really know what kind of lasting impact the tolls will have on traffic flows – because drivers are still working out whether the cost of the tolls is worth it.

She expects most people will probably make that calculation every day for several months – till they see what works for them.

“What people’s value of time is and what they’re willing to pay in gas and wear and tear on their vehicle versus taking a pretty free-flowing 520 trip … will be the point that we monitor and figure out what’s really gonna happen.”

Drivers without “Good to Go” accounts will pay the highest fees: as much as $5 at peak times, one way.

Hammond reiterated the reasoning for the new construction: the old floating bridge, which first opened nearly fifty years ago, is overdue for upgrades and could be hazardous in an earthquake or major storm. The agency is building a $ 4-billion-dollar (B) replacement.

Other highlights of the traffic flows are in WDOT's latest press release:

Travel times (New data released paints the traffic picture for the morning commute, on Tuesday, January 3rd - the first day of non-holiday commuting since tolls went live on December 29th.)

SR 520

Westbound SR 520 from Bellevue to Seattle was 5-7 minutes faster. Traffic volumes dropped by 45 percent from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. Typical travel times are 15-20 minutes. Volumes edged up a bit in the 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. hour after a disabled semi-truck blocked one lane on westbound I-90 on Mercer Island and pushed drivers to SR 520.

Eastbound SR 520 from Seattle to Bellevue was 5-7 minutes faster. Traffic volumes dropped by 35 percent. Typical travel times are 12 -20 minutes.

I-90

Drivers used I-90 as an alternative to SR 520. Westbound I-90 traffic increased 25 percent until the disabled semi-truck blocked one lane on Mercer Island. During the incident, traffic dropped 8 percent below average. Travel times increased by 15 minutes during the incident.

Eastbound I-90 traffic increased by 20 percent and travel times averaged 4 minutes longer. Typical travel times are 10-16 minutes.

SR 522

On SR 522 from SR 202 in Woodinville to downtown Seattle, westbound traffic took about 5 minutes longer than usual during the morning commute, and congestion was heavier and started earlier than normal. There was no change in travel times on eastbound SR 522.

I-405

Traffic on northbound I-405 just north of I-90 increased by 5 to 10 percent, while traffic on southbound I-405 in the same location increased by 2 percent.

I-5

Traffic on southbound and northbound I-5 at Olive Way increased by 2 percent. Anecdotally traffic engineers report a noticeable drop in traffic merging from 45th Street to eastbound SR 520.

In the news release, Secretary Hammond - the lead official of all of the state's transportation projects - had the following comment.

“This is just the traffic picture for today. We anticipate a different picture tonight. We anticipate more fluctuations in the days, weeks and months to come,” Hammond said.