State collects 3 times the projected revenue during I-405 toll launch

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- The new I-405 toll lanes are making the Washington State Department of Transportation a lot of money, more than three times what the agency expected to generate during the first three months of the program.

Some drivers worry the windfall only benefits the state and not commuters.

WSDOT thought it would collect $1 million during the last three months of 2015 – instead the state made $3.7 million from drivers paying the new tolls.

“I’m very angry,” said driver Revlon McKinnon. “What is the point of having that lane if we can’t use it to get where we need to get quicker?”

Drivers are still skeptical about the I-405 toll lanes, and some are asking if the restricted lanes are working to move traffic faster.

“Am I going to pay $7 to sit in 10 minutes worth of traffic?” asked driver Mitch Edvalds, “I don’t know if that’s worth having.”

WSDOT claims the new tolls are working to combat congestion by keeping toll payers moving at 45 mph from Lynnwood to Bellevue most of the time.

But the assistant director of WSDOT's tolling division, Patty Rubstello, said the agency never dreamed so many people would be willing to pay tolls as high as $10.

So far the toll lanes have raked in more than three times than originally forecast.

“We are surprised the revenue is this much higher than forecasted,” said Rubstello. “But we also know there’s tremendous amount of growth happening in the north part of this corridor.”

WSDOT said it is too soon to make drastic adjustments to keep traffic moving, but the Washington Policy Center wonders if the growing pains along I-405 are here to stay.

“They’re getting 2 years worth of growth in the last 4 months,” said WPC transportation director Bob Pishue. “So that raises the question, are things going to get better on I-405 or not?”

Overhead and vendor costs eat the first 54 cents for each car that pays a toll, according to WSDOT. The law requires any additional revenue go back into improving congestion on I-405.

State Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said the unexpected revenue is just another example of the incompetence of WSDOT’s leaders.

“They told us they were going to take $1 million of taxpayer money; they took $3.5 million worth of taxpayers money,” said Hill. “For the people sitting on 405 that are already angry, I don’t think this is going to make anybody any happier.”

Drivers are also begging for relief during less congested times, now the state is working to possibly remove the tolls at night, during weekends and holidays.