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Tuesday, January 03, 2012
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Morning commuters use other routes; evening commuters planning ahead
SEATTLE – The holidays are over and the commuters are back. Many returned to work or school in the Central Puget Sound region to find their primary route across Lake Washington, the State Route 520 floating bridge, now requires an electronic toll.
State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond watched the first regular workday morning commute with tolling on SR 520.
“It appears that a good number of people who typically take the 520 bridge across Lake Washington are exploring their alternatives,” Hammond said. “We saw heavier traffic on I-90 and SR 522 than we typically see during morning rush hour, and we are hearing from our transit partners that many commuters took the bus.”
“We’ll be closely watching the evening commute, which is expected to be heavier as drivers choose alternate routes to avoid the SR 520 toll,” she said.
New data released paints the traffic picture for the morning commute:
- Westbound SR 520 from Bellevue to Seattle was 5-7 minutes faster. Traffic volumes dropped by 45 percent from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. Typical travel times are 15-20 minutes. Volumes edged up a bit in the 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. hour after a disabled semi-truck blocked one lane on westbound I-90 on Mercer Island and pushed drivers to SR 520.
- Eastbound SR 520 from Seattle to Bellevue was 5-7 minutes faster. Traffic volumes dropped by 35 percent. Typical travel times are 12 -20 minutes.
- Drivers used I-90 as an alternative to SR 520. Westbound I-90 traffic increased 25 percent until the disabled semi-truck blocked one lane on Mercer Island. During the incident, traffic dropped 8 percent below average. Travel times increased by 15 minutes during the incident.
- Eastbound I-90 traffic increased by 20 percent and travel times averaged 4 minutes longer. Typical travel times are 10-16 minutes.
- On SR 522 from SR 202 in Woodinville to downtown Seattle, westbound traffic took about 5 minutes longer than usual during the morning commute, and congestion was heavier and started earlier than normal. There was no change in travel times on eastbound SR 522.
- Traffic on northbound I-405 just north of I-90 increased by 5 to 10 percent, while traffic on southbound I-405 in the same location increased by 2 percent.
- Traffic on southbound and northbound I-5 at Olive Way increased by 2 percent. Anecdotally traffic engineers report a noticeable drop in traffic merging from 45th Street to eastbound SR 520.
“This is just the traffic picture for today. We anticipate a different picture tonight. We anticipate more fluctuations in the days, weeks and months to come,” Hammond said.
Data shows a large majority of morning and evening commuters have the GoodToGo! pass. During that peak morning commute from 5 to 9 a.m., 85 percent of the drivers have the pass. Nearly 65 percent of all daily drivers who use the bridge have the pass.
“This is better than we expected and beat our goal of 50 percent of all drivers with a pass on day one,” said Hammond. “We asked drivers to take certain steps as we transition to tolling on SR 520, and by all reports they’ve really stepped up. For that I say thank you to drivers for helping us make this change and for helping fund a replacement for this vulnerable but vital bridge.”
What’s also clear, Hammond said, is that commuters understand the all-electronic toll system and most have opened Good To Go! accounts and bought and activated passes to save a $1.50 on each trip across the bridge.
The state’s Good To Go! website and the customer service centers continued accepting new accounts at an increasing pace. An estimated 30,000 accounts have been set up in the past 17 days for a total of 160,000 accounts since February 2011.
Getting Good To Go!
- Purchase a Good To Go! pass, activate and install it.
- Update existing account information, including credit card or bank information and vehicle license plate numbers.
Pick up a pass
Buy any of the five pass options online at www.wsdot.wa.gov/goodtogo.
About tolling on the SR 520 bridge
Tolling on SR 520 is expected to raise $1 billion overall toward the $4.65 billion SR 520 bridge replacement and HOV program, which builds 12.8 miles of safety and mobility improvements from Interstate 5 in Seattle to SR 202 in Redmond. The existing SR 520 floating bridge opened to traffic in 1963, and is vulnerable to sinking during a severe storm after weathering decades of wind and waves. The new bridge will better withstand storms and move more people across the lake with a new transit/HOV lane for buses and carpools in each direction. The target date to open the new bridge to traffic is December 2014.
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