Lawmaker calls 405 tolls an epic fail, but WSDOT defends project

OLYMPIA - Lawmakers hoping to change the new 405 tolling system testified in front of the transportation committee on Thursday.

Opponents of the new toll lanes between Lynnwood and Bellevue say traffic is worse and toll fees are too high. Another common complaint is that there are not enough entry and exit points along the toll lanes, causing confusion for many.

Senator Andy Hill, who sponsored SB 6152, is proposing three specific changes. He called WSDOT's implementation of the new system an "epic failure" on Thursday.

"My teenagers would classify this as an epic fail in the way it's been implemented," Hill said. "I sat down with DOT and asked them what their estimate of usage were and their actual they said they were off by 100 percent."

Rep. Mark Harmsworth is cosponsoring the bill in the House.

"The original plan was to run this for two years," Harmsworth said. "I am sorry, I can't wait two years for a failed experiment to figure out this isn't going to work anymore."

WSDOT defended the tolls in the hearing, asking lawmakers not to make the changes proposed by Harmsworth and Hill in SB 6152. They told lawmakers that data show the tolls are showing promise.

They say the express toll lanes are saving an average user 14 minutes off their commute, with 75 percent of weekday users paying 75 cents per trip.

WSDOT said a million drivers have used the toll lanes every month since its launch three months ago, and that 600,000 of those are people who use the toll lanes occasionally.

"We are listening to driver feedback. We know there are concerns. We have and will continue to take steps to address them. We are listening closely to corridor jurisdictions as we make improvements to the system and getting their feedback," Asst. Secretary for Tolling Patty Rubstello said.

Several people from the community spoke in favor of the tolls.

"I have not encountered any challenges using express toll lanes," one driver said. "I thought the communication by WSDOT prior to rolling out were clear and helpful."

Others spoke against, including the group Stop405Tolls. The group has a petition that had more than 28,000 signatures as of Thursday.

Stop405Tolls says if it cannot get rid of tolls entirely, it wants the double lines separating the toll lanes from the general purpose lanes to be gone for good.

It also supports getting rid of tolls during non-peak hours.

SB 6152 aims to scrap toll fees from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. It also proposes getting rid of the double lines and shrinking toll lanes from two to one from Bothell to Bellevue.