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WSDOT fails to meet speed metric on 405 toll lanes as new bill looks to authorize its expansion

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BELLEVUE, Wash. -- A Senate committee in Olympia on Thursday discussed a bill that would finalize the authorization of expanding 405 toll lanes from Bellevue to Renton.

But the initiative could also change the metric in which WSDOT uses to evaluate toll lanes and that has Q13 News asking: Why?

In 3 years, the controversial 405 toll lanes from Bellevue to Lynnwood raised about $75 million, a lucrative deal for the state allowing WSDOT to exceed its revenue goals.

But when it comes to the flow of traffic, WSDOT is failing to meet the state’s performance measure on speed.

“People want congestion relief,” Mariya Frost with Washington Policy Center said.

The state’s goal is to express toll lanes on 405 moving at speeds of 45 miles per hour at least 90% of the time. Right now it’s only flowing at that speed at 81% of the time.

“They promised the toll lanes would be removed if they did not meet both speed and revenue metrics,” Frost said.

Enter Senate Bill 5825, which wants to change the language or at least add on to the 45 mile per hour requirement with “an alternate metric” or “the most efficient movement of traffic.”

The Washington Policy Center says this is the state’s way of backtracking on a promise to the public.

“This is why people don’t trust government, they are gutting language that provides recourse to the public that holds DOT accountable,” Frost said.

Q13 News asked WSDOT on the reason behind the change.

“We are not gutting that language, that performance measure is still in there and we are still going to report on,” WSDOT Director of Tolling Edward Barry said.

Barry says if there are alternative ways that the state can measure performance the new language allows them to do that.

Although the initial speed metric has not been met, WSDOT says 405 toll lanes are still moving traffic faster than before.

“I think they are a success, the HOV lane didn’t meet that metric nearly at all it was at 56% at 45 miles per hour,” Barry said.

WSDOT says since tolling went into effect, there are 23% more vehicles using 405 during peak periods and that the toll lanes are helping to move traffic more effectively.

As for drivers, there are a lot of mixed feelings.

“I do find it very, very handy to get from point A to point B,” Alexcia Montoya said.

"That’s crazy to spend $10 to be able to get somewhere a little bit quicker, make it cheaper at least,” James Georgiu said.

405 toll lane revenue goes to the Motor Vehicle Fund, but Senate Bill 5825 would move it to the State treasury fund. Q13 News reached out to the office of Senator Steve Hobbs Thursday morning, but as of Thursday evening we have not heard back on him to discuss his bill.

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