How to navigate collisions blocking the I-405 express toll lanes

Friday, October 2, 2015

 by Harmony Weinberg

This morning the price to drive in the I-405 express toll lanes jumped to $5.25, the highest toll rate yet. Below is useful information to help drivers better understand how the lanes reached that price and how to navigate the lanes when there is a collision on I-405.

What happened?
Around 6:30 a.m. there was a collision on southbound I-405 near SR 527 in Bothell that blocked the two left lanes of the highway, including the express toll lane.

What did that mean for drivers?
Well, for drivers who wanted to enter the lanes on southbound I-405 in Lynnwood they saw a sign that read HOV ONLY. That meant only drivers with a flex pass switched to HOV mode and three or more people in the vehicle could enter the express toll lane.

Why couldn’t non-HOV drivers pay to use the lanes? We can’t sell you a faster trip in the express toll lanes when they are blocked. To manage traffic, we needed to lessen the load in the lane by only allowing HOV drivers in. Those HOV drivers stayed in the toll lane up until the point of the blockage where emergency officials directed them to merge back into the regular lanes to get around the collision. Once around the collision, those vehicles could get back into the toll lanes. For drivers south of the collision, the express toll lanes operated as normal.

Why the high price?
When the collision cleared around 7:10 a.m. and the express toll lane reopened to traffic, we saw an increase of drivers who chose to take that lane to avoid the three mile backup caused by the crash. Carpools with a flex pass hopped into the express toll lane for free. Non-carpoolers had the option to pay $5.25 to get around the backup. While the express toll lane had significantly less traffic than the regular lanes at this point in time, it was still more congested than usual. Tolls adjust automatically based on traffic speeds and the number of vehicles in the express toll lane in order to manage traffic.

HOV Only:

Today’s collision caused express toll lane rate signs to read HOV ONLY. This helps to manage traffic by limiting the number of vehicles entering the blocked lanes.

Express toll lanes open to all (no toll):

Sometimes there could be a collision or roadwork that may block all lanes except the express toll lanes. In that case, we would stop collecting tolls and allow all vehicles (with or without a Good to Go! Pass) to use the lanes.

The purpose of express toll lanes is to help us manage traffic better and keep traffic moving so that drivers have a more reliable option when they need it. The goal is to keep traffic moving at 45 miles per hour 90 percent of the time, but that is not always possible when collisions block the lanes. During traffic incidents, we use rate signs as a traffic management tool to reduce backups and do the best we can to get traffic moving again as fast as possible. 

More people are jumping into the fast lanes as we approach the first full week of I-405 express toll lanes

Thursday, October 1, 2015

by Annie Johnson

As we approach the end of the first week since we launched the Interstate 405 express toll lanes we are seeing more people give them a try. From Monday, Sept. 28, to Wednesday, Sept. 30, we saw an increase of 25 percent more drivers using the express toll lanes.

On Monday the express toll lanes stayed light as a lot of people seemed uncertain about them. But after some drivers saw just how quickly they could get to their destinations they made their way over to the lanes on Tuesday. In fact, we saw an increase of 20 percent more drivers using the lanes on Tuesday. Then another five percent jumped into the lanes on Wednesday. We expect to see this trend increase as more drivers test out the lanes.

If you want to try it and you don’t have a Good To Go! pass, you can still use the lane and we’ll send a bill in the mail to the registered owner for the toll plus $2.

Travel times staying constant
As far as travel times go, this morning looked a lot like yesterday morning on I- 405. In fact, things have been mostly moving pretty smoothly between Bellevue and Lynnwood this week. When we look at volumes, things are pretty steady there too, both on I-405 and I-5.

We’ll keep watching traffic closely, monitoring travel times and making adjustments as needed in order to ensure we provide drivers with the choice of a reliable and predictable trip on I-405.

Striping changes
Our contractor is continuing to put the finishing touches on striping throughout the corridor including replacing the temporary striping with more durable permanent striping.

WSDOT crews add lane markings to the new I-405 express toll lanes.
One bigger change that drivers heading south from Lynnwood and Bothell will see is some additional striping near NE 160th Street in Bothell. Earlier this week we saw and drivers confirmed confusion where the second express toll lane begins. We added some new striping there to help drivers see where they need to go to stay in the general purpose lanes or enter the express toll lanes. We added pavement markings clearly showing which lanes are the express toll lanes.

Just like we’re watching traffic, we’ll keep watching driver behavior and listening to your comments. 

I-405 travel times show first commutes in regular lanes are close to normal

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

By Kris Olsen

After several days of operation, the new Interstate 405 express toll lanes are working well. They began providing a fast and reliable trip immediately to drivers and transit users. Our traffic engineers are also keeping a close eye on I-405’s regular lanes to see how traffic is moving.

We’ve closely watched travel times during the morning and evening commutes the past few days and compared them to travel times from October 2014.  We’ve taken their information and plotted them on the charts below. So far, the results are encouraging.

The morning commutes

First, let’s explain what’s on the graph.
  • The solid black line shows the average weekday morning commute time in the regular lanes for October 2014. That’s our “baseline,” if you will. 
  • The black dashed line shows a very heavy commute drivers experienced once out of every 20 days in October 2014.
  • The blue line shows the southbound commute for Monday, Sept. 28. 
  • The purple line shows Tuesday morning’s commute.
  • The yellow line shows Wednesday morning’s commute.
On average in October 2014, the morning commute in the regular lanes generally peaks just after 7 a.m. with a trip between Lynnwood and Bellevue taking about an hour.

Now, compare that to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • On Monday, the blue line, the average commute time in the regular lanes peaked at 65 minutes right around the 7 a.m. hour. 
  • On Tuesday, the purple line, the southbound commute in the regular lanes was slower compared to October 2014. It peaked just below 75 minutes at 7:30 a.m. But, that also coincides with a collision that occurred at Northeast 70th Street. About 90 minutes later a second collision occurred near Northeast 108th. 
  • The commute on Wednesday morning showed travel times in the regular lanes were much lower than average. 
And take a look at the black dashed line. That shows a commute in October 2014 that we experienced once every 20 days. Our average morning commute times this week were lower than the longest ones last year.

The evening commutes

For the evening commute graph:

  • The solid black line is our average weekday evening commute in the regular lanes in October 2014. 
  • The black dashed line represents the type of commute we experienced once out of every 20 days in October 2014. 
  • The green line and orange lines are Monday and Tuesday evenings commutes in the regular lanes, respectively.

The travel time of approximately 41 minutes each evening is right in line with our average commute times in the regular lanes last year. They are well below the high commutes we experienced one in every 20 days.

The I-5 diversion myth

We’ve heard a few things about the express toll lane system and how it’s affecting traffic on I-5. One persistent claim is that more drivers have diverted to I-5 in order to avoid the tolls and perceived congestion. The numbers show us that’s not the case. The traffic volumes have remained fairly steady on I-5 since tolling began.

Know before you go: familiarize yourself with the lanes

We know that change can be uncomfortable at times. Drivers can familiarize themselves with the express toll lanes beforehand by checking the top ten things you need to know about them.

There’s also this really helpful interactive map to help drivers figure out where they should enter and exit the toll lanes.

Early days

We’re still at the beginning of a learning curve. Everyday we’ve noticed that more drivers are using the express toll lanes. Other states that have instituted express toll lanes advise it takes six months to a year before traffic stabilizes into a new normal.

We’ll keep watching traffic closely, monitoring travel times and making adjustments as needed in order ensure we provide drivers with the choice of a reliable and predictable trip on I-405.

You spoke, we listened! You can now officially sync your calendar with ours

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

October brings a lot of things: football, pumpkin spice lattes, cooler weather, the return of directional closures on I-90, a weekend-long viaduct inspection and a new look for our popular WSDOT statewide traffic impacts calendar. You can now download the calendar directly from our website to help keep you informed. Subscribing to the WSDOT event calendar can be done via iCal and XML. Up-to-date month, week and agenda views are also available on the event calendar page.

REMEMBER: Construction and special events change often, so be sure to update and check the calendar often for the latest details.

Now, let’s get back to the I-90 directional closures starting back up. I-90 will be down to one lane and detoured to the express lanes for one or two weekends each month starting the weekend of October 9th through May of next year.  These weekend-long closures give contractor crews working for WSDOT and Sound Transit space to upgrade the operations and safety systems inside the Mount Baker and Mercer Island tunnels. The tunnel work must be completed before Sound Transit can begin work in 2017 to devote the I-90 express lanes to the 14-mile East Link light rail extension.

Halloween plans? No zombies or goblins will be allowed to drive on the Alaskan Way Viaduct during the day on Saturday, October 31, and Sunday, November 1, for the semi-annual inspection of the structure.

Those are just a few of the big closures you should be sure to plan around as you sip on that pumpkin spice latte while making your October plans.

Happy fall!

Coming soon to Vancouver: Ginormous girders longer than five football fields!

Monday, September 28, 2015

By Tamara Greenwell

UPDATE: The girder installation began Tuesday, Sept. 29. Watch this video to see the work in action.


It’s hard not to notice the cranes, drills, trucks and machinery along Interstate 205 between State Route 500 and Mill Plain Boulevard in southwest Washington. East Vancouver is getting a new interchange, which reaches a HUGE milestone this week.

Ginormous steel girders will make their way to the work zone as part of the new Northeast 18th Street on-ramp to southbound I-205 that will help relieve congestion for drivers.

Girders are like giant Legos; they connect the support columns to the bridge deck. Like building with Legos, several steps must be completed in order for a structure to stand tall. Support columns are formed with two separate 120 feet by 8 feet steel bridge cages that are dug deep into the ground and filled with concrete. After the concrete cures, columns and support structures are constructed. Once those are set it’s time for the girders to be placed on top.

Bridge foundation cage ready for installation.

Looking down into the bridge foundation cage after installation.

The girders are so big they are broken down into sections to be trucked to the work zone. It takes five sections to make up one girder. For this project we need three girders, so there are 15 different sections.

Placing girders this size is no easy task. To keep traffic moving, contractor crews will transport the girders to the construction area and set them into place overnight. A single lane of southbound I-205 will close each night, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., Sept. 28 to Oct. 3.

Next steps
  • A temporary bridge deck mold is built on top of the girders. 
  • Rebar is installed inside the temporary mold. 
  • Concrete is poured into the mold, which is removed when the concrete cures and is able to support itself.
  • The first section of concrete deck is scheduled to be poured by the end of 2015.
Column structures on southbound I-205 south of Northeast 18th Street.
Fun facts
  • Fifteen girder sections have a combined length of 1,680 feet. That’s more than five football fields in length!
  • The single longest girder section is 114 feet. That’s longer than a blue whale, the largest animal on the planet.
  • Once constructed, the heaviest girder, made up of five sections, will weigh approximately 293,600 pounds, the weight of more than 11 standard school buses. 
Project benefits 
  • Reduce congestion on northbound I-205 between SR 14 and SR 500
  • Improve safety and reduce congestion for southbound I-205 between SR 500 and Mill Plain Boulevard
  • Improve freeway access for east Vancouver drivers
Final configuration of on- and off-ramps when the interchange project is complete.

This interchange is the last Transportation Partnership Program (TPA) project to be built in Clark County. You can watch the progress on our live construction camera.

Featured Flickr Photo

SR 4 culvert bottom sections installed
SR 4 culvert bottom sections installed

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