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Republicans say Inslee’s proposed changes to I-405 tolling system don’t go far enough

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OLYMPIA , Wash.  -- As the noise gets louder along I-405, many drivers are desperate for lawmakers to cure the congestion.

“I want them to listen to the people, find out what we really want,” driver Cyndi Rae said.

Some drivers say Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed changes announced Tuesday don’t go far enough.

“Opening up lanes during non-peak hours definitely won’t do anything because that’s not when people are using it,” driver Brett Schindler said.

Amid public backlash, Inslee wants to eliminate tolls during non-peak evening hours, weekends and holidays by this spring.

“Tolling during those times are not necessary to achieve the ends of this project which are to reduce congestion,” Inslee said.

Inslee also wants WSDOT to add more room on I-405 by extending auxiliary lanes between Kirkland and Bellevue and allowing drivers to use the shoulder between Bothell and Lynnwood during rush hour.

“We’ve also seen others across the country where they are using this concept to move traffic during those peak periods,” Patty Rubstello of WSDOT said.

But it could be years until we see those extra lanes, a huge sticking point for state Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek.

“Three years is not acceptable, that’s too long. We put those changes over a weekend, why can’t we undo those changes in another weekend?” Harmsworth said.

Harmsworth believes a better solution is to shrink the two toll lanes into one -- that’s exactly what a Senate bill would do.

The Republican says he’s willing to work with the governor on a fix as long as it gets to the root of the problem.

“The root is the congestion,” Harmsworth said.

In the meantime, Rubstello, the head of the tolling division for WSDOT is tackling what she can. On Wednesday, she spent the day talking to about a dozen tolling commissioners to get them on board with the governor’s plan.

The commissioners, who hold the power to change the tolling system, made no final decision Wednesday. If commissioners agree to lift some of the tolls, drivers could see the change in several months.

On Wednesday, the governor's spokesperson told Q13 News that the issue is still a work in progress, that there could be more proposals in the future.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said of Inslee's proposals:

“We're glad the governor has finally acknowledged that the I-405 HOT lanes are an issue and that he’s choosing to adopt, in his proposal, some of the reforms that had already been suggested by Senator (Andy) Hill (of Redmond). However, it's important to note that he has not consulted with the Senate majority about his plan. He is ultimately responsible for its effect on the I-405 corridor. We hope he will work with us in the future so Washington commuters and employers can finally enjoy comprehensive, permanent, and meaningful congestion relief.

“These changes are a small fix for a huge problem and are nowhere near enough to solve the real issues of poor management at the Department of Transportation. We’re hoping those are also on the governor’s to-do list.”