WSDOT starts I-405 tolling project before state revenue study is published
The proposed express toll lanes on I-405 will produce less revenue and lead to more traffic congestion than first thought, according to a state study. But WSDOT officials are moving forward despite the negative findings and before the study has even been published.
Earlier this year, the legislature authorized WSDOT officials to deviate from the original I-405 Master Plan and create an express toll corridor between Bellevue and Lynnwood. However, opponents were able to convince lawmakers to include a revenue study before construction could begin.
Officials with the Washington State Transportation Commission (WTC) have not published the study yet but it is complete and we have it available on our website: Eastside Corridor Independent Traffic and Revenue Study
Interestingly, the study is stamped with a completion date of September 24, 2012.
The WTC has not officially released the study and it cannot be found on the Commission’s website. WTC staff tells me Commissioners won’t even receive it until their November 13th meeting in Tacoma. The study has not been publically reviewed by the legislature, the Joint Transportation Commission or the WTC. And there have been no public hearings or input by any of the local cities or residents that will be impacted along the I-405 corridor.
Here is a letter from the Director of the Office of Financial Management (OFM), acknowledging the study and releasing funds to WSDOT officials to move ahead with tolling I-405. The letter is dated October 1st, which is just seven days after the completion date found on the study.
WSDOT officials are moving ahead with the project before the study has even been published or vetted by the legislature, the public or local officials. This is significant because the study virtually confirms what opponents had been saying all along, and it paints a very different picture than what WSDOT officials first presented during the legislative session.
Among the results that are perhaps the most significant are these key findings:
- “Narrower Range of Revenue Outcomes than Prior WSDOT Forecast.”
- “Traffic growth drives revenue growth.”
- “Demand will exceed capacity.”
To be fair, the legislative proviso requiring the state to complete the study did not attach any other conditions on the release of the funds for WSDOT officials to move ahead. Regardless of the findings, the bill only obligated the state to conduct the study.
This is probably little consolation to officials and residents from the cities of Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland and Bothell, who now do not have any opportunity to read or provide input based on the new information before WSDOT officials start the project.
I mean what was the point of spending a year and $1.8 million on a study if state officials forge ahead without caring to hear from stakeholders on the new information?
The new study recognizes the project’s dirty little secret that traffic congestion in the non-tolled lanes must exist and get worse in order for the toll concept to work. This means only those drivers who pay the toll will experience better mobility, while everyone else is stuck in traffic. It also means that state officials now have a financial incentive (and perhaps a fiduciary obligation if the revenue stream is bonded) to maintain and even increase traffic congestion in the non-tolled lanes to achieve their revenue projections.
Instead of improving mobility for all drivers, like what was promised in the original I-405 Master Plan, the new tollways will only benefit the few who pay the toll, while making it worse for all others.
The I-405 Master Plan calls for up to two general purpose lanes in each direction and according to the WSDOT include the following benefits:
- Accommodating an additional 110,000 trips per day.
- Reducing time stuck in traffic by more than 13 million hours per year – an average of more than 40 hours a year for each regular user of I-405.
- Producing travel time savings valued at $569 million a year.
- Removing chokepoints and weaving traffic movements will improve safety by reducing side and rear collisions.
- Enhancing freight mobility with better interchanges, travel time savings and updated technologies.
- Providing economic benefits through construction. Each $1 billion spent on transportation construction generates 47,500 jobs, according to the USDOT.
- $5.40 returned to the economy in congestion savings for each $1.00 invested in highways, also according to the USDOT.