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State’s next plan? A toll lane on I-405 between Bellevue and Renton

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Traffic in our area is getting worse but figuring out how to ease that congestion is a tricky task.

The Washington State Department of Transportation thinks the solution might be tolling, at least on one very busy highway used by thousands of people every day.

WSDOT says the section of Interstate 405 between Renton and Bellevue is the most congested corridor in our state.

After adding toll HOV lanes from Lynnwood to Bellevue, those will now be expanded all the way down to the Pierce County line (from I-405 connector with State Route 167).

Some drivers say the tolling has gotten out of hand.

Drivers on Interstate I-405 between Renton and Bellevue experience one of the state’s worst commutes.

WSDOT 405 project administrator Kim Henry says traffic on I-405 is a dense corridor where a lot of cars are barely moving because of the volume. He says to get cars moving better, the answer is expanding the toll lanes.

Henry says the department learned a lot from the toll project on I-405 between Lynnwood and Bellevue.

“This is going to be a much different look and feel from the last one,” said Henry.

The difference, Henry says, is that WSDOT has looked into reducing bottlenecks to other streets, among other things, and also compared it to  similar sections of I-5 with five lanes.

“We have much higher through-put of about 35% , even when daily volumes are the same,” said Henry.

But not everyone agrees. David Hablewitz with Stop 405 Tolls says people are tolled out.

“You cannot make the highway go faster by charging money to use it,” said Hablewitz.

He says tolling is hurting the people who can’t afford it most, like those who live in Snohomish County because they can’t afford a place in Seattle or the Eastside.

“Now people have to pay to get to work, and now we have the same thing starting again in Pierce County and they’re going to get punished the same way,” said Hablewitz.

WSDOT says even if those people choose not to use the toll lanes, others will and ultimately traffic will get better.

Henry says when the project is complete it will coincide with the opening of light rail in Bellevue and rapid bus transit, giving commuters more options.

“We’re pushing, we need trains, which go one place, and we need to charge tolls to get on the highway. The reality is that creates diversion, more frustration and does nothing for the general purpose lanes,” said Hablewitz.

WSDOT says this is a significant project and they are still working out details of the construction to limit the impact to traffic, but drivers will be affected for the next five years before the toll lane expansion is finished.

Officials do suggest drivers look into adjusting their schedules or working from home if that’s possible.

Construction is slated to begin in the summer of 2019 and complete in 2024.