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How Much Would You Pay To Avoid I-405 Traffic?

It's not so bad being stuck in traffic when the mountain is out. Mount Rainier traffic
Flickr Photo/Adventures of Pam & Frank (CC-BY-NC-ND)
It's not so bad being stuck in traffic when the mountain is out.

Interstate 405 is a parking lot for about eight hours on weekdays. 

The state wants to know how much you would pay to dodge that traffic by using new tolled expressways.

That question is the focus of a series of public meetings starting Tuesday night at Bellevue City Hall (info on that and other meetings here).

KUOW’s Joshua McNichols has more.


Interstate 405 hasn’t really been expanded much since it was built in 1965. For much of its length, it’s still basically two lanes in either direction.

High occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes have been added in places. They were supposed to offer an escape from the traffic – for drivers willing to organize a carpool. But in recent years, even carpool lanes have become hopelessly congested.

"Most of the time, those lanes should be moving. They should not be stuck like a parking lot."

That’s Reema Griffith. She’s with the Washington State Transportation Commission.

Her group has been looking at the I-405 problem.

They’re going to raise the bar on the carpool lane – to three people, at least during rush hour.

And they’re going to turn that free-flowing carpool lane into a cash cow by letting people buy their way into it.

The new system will run between Bellevue and Lynnwood and will open later this year.

Money from the tolls will help expand the system further along I-405.

Griffith says as cars get more fuel efficient, the gas tax isn’t going to pay for roads anymore.

She says tolls are the future.

GRIFFITH: "It’s a new way of thinking. And I think a lot of people get it. I think if you drive in a congested corridor every day, you want relief. And a lot of people will say that it totally makes sense."

Drivers will have to install a new kind of pass on their windshield called a Flex Pass.

It operates on the honor system.

When you’re driving solo, you flip it to one position and get charged anywhere from 75 cents to $10.

That price rises and falls with demand.

When you’re driving with a carpool, you flip the pass to another position – and your access to the lane is suddenly free.