I-405 express lane tolls reach a record $10 … and could go even higher

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BELLEVUE, Wash.  -- To the shock of many I-405 drivers during Thursday morning’s commute, tolls on the eastside freeway’s express lanes reached a record $10.  The price varies based on usage, but few expected that the trip would ever be this expensive.

“While we were at $10, drivers were getting anywhere between 16-24 minute time savings,” said Patty Rubstello, the Washington State Department of Transportation's tolling and system development engineer. “They value that.”

The high cost and confusion surrounding I-405’s express toll lanes is generating backlash from some drivers who argue the state has mismanaged the entire project and should scrap the system altogether.  But WSDOT says the system is working.

“It’s important to understand that drivers are making that choice to pay $10 to get in that lane,” Rubstello said.

The whole point of creating express toll lanes along I-405 was to provide a chance for non-carpools to “buy” a speedier, more reliable trip.  Since the regular HOV lanes were underused during peak times, and the general purpose lanes were overused, allowing more cars into the former was meant to spread things out and have all lanes move more efficiently.

But no one expected that it would cost a whopping $10 to drive in these lanes.  And many argue than even with the high price, the speeds have been slower than WSDOT’s goal of 45 mph.

Critics are circulating a petition now to scrap the tolls and return the lanes to 2-person carpools instead of 3-person.  So far they have collected nearly 20,000 signatures and hope to work with legislators when they come back into session in January.

WSDOT said Thursday that they may have to increase the price above $10 is the usage continues to be strong.