I-405 tolls generate millions more than expected; WSDOT promises congestion relief

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- The Interstate 405 toll lanes going from Bellevue to Everett are generating millions more than what the state predicted.

The Washington State Department of Transportation thought the tolls would generate $5.5 million. But they've collected $17.5 million in a little over a year.

When we asked drivers on Thursday how much they usually pay, driver Debby Bullard said she shelled out $10 on average one way from Everett to Kirkland in the mornings.

But WSDOT says the $10 toll is not the main reason why the state has generated more than 3 times what they expected.

“Eighty percent of the people who have used the express toll lanes have paid $4 or less,” WSDOT’s Director of Toll Systems Patty Rubstello said.

Rubstello says the unexpected extra revenue boils down to demand.

“A lot of drivers have taken advantage of the express toll lanes a lot sooner than we thought,” Rubstello said.

She says the majority of drivers using the toll lanes use it only 1 to 5 times a month.

“We are able to quickly take that toll revenue and reinvest it,” Rubstello said.

A big chunk of the revenue, 60%, will go back to the I-405 corridor to ease congestion. WSDOT says they are brainstorming ways to use the money but they already know that some of the money will make it possible to open up an extra lane in Bothell by next spring.

“Northbound from 527 up to I-5 during the P.M. peak, we will open up the shoulder so drivers can use it as a third general purpose lane,” Rubstello said.

About 11% will go directly to WSDOT for things like staff costs, phones, data collection and computers.

Another 15% for Washington State Patrol and court proceedings and 9 % for the private company in Texas that contracts with WSDOT to operate the tolls and to provide customer service.

“They employ over 120 employees in Washington state,” Rubstello said.

“I don’t think it’s helped traffic. That’s the thing, whether or not people are using it, traffic is worse than it ever was,” driver Charlie Johnson said.

Bullard admits her morning commute is a little faster on the tolls but she doesn’t  know how much longer she can afford it.

“I’ve been really thinking about moving, that’s my best option,” Bullard said.

WSDOT says they hear from people who support the tolls and they say one of big reasons why congestion has gotten worse is because people are moving into Puget Sound at a rapid pace.

In the last year 86,000 people moved to Puget Sound, the biggest growth in the last decade.