KING COUNTY, Wash. - The cost to drive on I-405 and SR 167 could soon cost you more.
Commissioners with the Washington State Transportation Commission voted today to explore a toll rate increase to $15 by early 2024, one option even looked at an $18 cost for utilizing I-405 toll lanes beginning in 2025.
If there’s a silver-lining for those struggling to afford the rising cost of Washington’s toll system, it’s that an uncapped toll rate didn’t make it into the final recommendations by a subcommittee that’s been reviewing toll changes.
WSDOT data shows that both I-405 and SR 167 toll lanes have continued to fail to meet a target performance rate of 45 mph during 90% of the peak travel times.
SR 167 is only meeting the criteria half of the time, while I-405 has issues for the morning commute, especially on the southbound lanes.
On top of the performance of the toll lanes, there is a shortfall in cash for planned construction along the corridor.
On Tuesday, commissioners were told that WSDOT is still assessing the total number, but it appears there is a $275 million funding gap for recently awarded projects compared to planned funds.
Two separate presentations were presented to remedy both the clogged lanes and a gap in construction funding on Tuesday.
Phase 1 looked at toll rates for 2024 for the existing toll lanes between Bellevue and Renton along I-405 and State Route 167.
Phase 2 looked at future decisions for the entire corridor, including the new express toll lanes that are set to open in the summer of 2025.
The biggest changes were discussed for Phase 2, which include a variety of approaches including a new minimum toll cost, and $18 toll maximum, the removal of a cap for tolls, weekend tolling and more.
However, Phase 1 changes are slated to begin in Feb. or March 2024, meaning the collection of input would begin in the coming weeks. The biggest takeaway from proposed Phase 1 changes is that a ride on toll lanes for I-405 and SR 167 could be boosted to a maximum of $15. Other numbers will be reviewed at the request of the legislature, though policy experts noted it wouldn’t "move the needle."
Both Phase 1 and Phase 2 plans would require a number of schedule of steps before anything would be implemented. The vote that took place on Tuesday essentially greenlit further investigation, and public hearings before a vote would ultimately take place on any potential changes.
Before the jump in tolls were even discussed, the reaction began to turn negative.
King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn publicized a letter to the commission, where he noted concerns about gas prices and challenges of public transit.
"Those who suffer the most are those who can afford these skyrocketing fees and taxes the least," wrote Dunn.
"Too often, public officials treat driving as a choice to be penalized, rather than a necessity for those whom the ‘preferred’ alternatives – such as public transit or bicycling – are not an option," he wrote.
FOX 13 spoke with locals who voiced frustration at the idea of climbing tolls, though some admitted the toll lanes have become less useful.
"It’s going to deter people, maybe it’ll be better for congestion," said Kirk Nordhaugen, who uses the toll lanes occasionally.
Asked if he’d be willing to pay up to $15 or even $18 dollars for a trip, he said: "Yeah, that’s excessive."