SHORELINE – Gov. Jay Inslee today announced a slate of changes to improve safety and reduce congestion along the most congested areas of I-5 and I-405.
Inslee announced the changes during a visit to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s new Transportation Management Center in Shoreline. He met with state transportation workers and leaders to talk about short- and long-term fixes to the I-405 express toll lanes, the need to replace aging expansion joints on Interstate 5, and to promote additional funding for WSDOT’s incident response teams.
Changes to the I-405 express toll lanes and customer service
I-405 is the most congested corridor in Washington state. The Legislature approved the I-405 express toll lane program in 2011 to help manage growing traffic demands. The toll lanes opened in September 2015 and Inslee said the results so far are mixed.
“For many years, the I-405 corridor has been the most congested in the state,” Inslee said. “We’re almost six months into the two year launch of these lanes and the results are mixed. While the data shows there have been significant improvements for many motorists and the corridor as a whole, new chokepoints have developed and we are hearing the frustration from those affected drivers. I’m directing WSDOT to move on short and long term solutions to address these chokepoints.”
Patty Rubstello, WSDOT’s Assistant Secretary for Tolling, said overall commute times have improved for drivers traveling the entire corridor, transit riders and certain segments of southbound drivers, but drivers traveling at the north end of the corridor, drivers making short trips and those traveling on weekends have seen longer travel times in the general purpose lanes.
Inslee said more than a dozen changes will be implemented along the corridor that will increase capacity and improve overall operations. Changes include new auxiliary lanes and hard running shoulders at key chokepoints near SR 520 and SR 527, improved striping and signage, longer access points that make it easier for drivers to merge into the toll lanes, and improved algorithms to keep the toll lanes moving.
Inslee has also directed WSDOT to work with the state Transportation Commission to lift the tolls on evening off-peak hours, weekends and holidays starting as early as Spring. Drivers using the general purpose lanes during those times should see an improvement in their travel time.
In addition, Inslee has directed WSDOT to improve customer service for Good2Go customers by adding capacity at their call center, reducing call wait times and redesigning the tolling website to make it more user-friendly for people managing their toll accounts.
Replacing expansion joints on I-5
The highly traveled Interstate 5 is more than 50-years-old, and many of its expansion joints are in need of replacement. Inslee said though the replacement work can cause short-term disruptions, the work is critical to the safety of the corridor and it prevents massive traffic jams resulting from emergency repairs.
WSDOT will replace 41 aging expansion joints on I-5 near Marysville this year and will begin to replace 12 expansion joints between Southcenter and Federal way. Future plans include replacing 33 expansion joints along northbound I-5 between Boeing Field and Ravenna while simultaneously replacing broken concrete panels that make up the roadway.
Funding for more Incident Response Teams
Inslee is asking the Legislature to provide funding for 10 new Incident Response Teams. IRTs respond to an incident every 10 minutes with an average clearance time of just under 13 minutes. Preliminary data shows WSDOT’s Incident Response program responded to more than 50,000 incidents in 2015, providing roughly $80 million in economic benefit to drivers and businesses in Washington state by clearing the roads of congestion and keeping traffic moving.
“These hard working men and women rove our major corridors looking for blocking incidents and stalls that can cause major traffic jams,” Inslee said. “We’ve all seen them, and we’ve all seen how quickly they can get folks moving again. They do an incredible job keeping the roads clear throughout the Puget Sound and assisting drivers with everything from flat tires to fender benders.”
Inslee has identified $10 million for the new IRTs, starting with $1.4 million of initial funding in his 2016 supplemental transportation budget proposal.