Traffic and financial toll of new 520 bridge fees

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by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on January 6, 2011 at 8:50 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 15 at 5:17 PM

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- With almost 12,000 drivers expected to look for alternate routes around the new Highway 520 tolling, your choice of commute may soon be a trade-off between time and money.

"I'm looking at, what is going to be, like $50 a week back and forth?" asked Melissa Falarski, a Seattle Pacific University student who lives in Bellevue. "I might try going [north] over the lake," said Falarski,"I've heard that that's possible."

"I would rather go I-90. 520 sucks. It's always sucked," said construction worker Greg Schmidt.

Most of the diverted traffic will take I-90 and 522, according to analysts with the Washington State Department of Transportation, who anticipate peak period travel speeds to decrease by up to 10 miles per hour on I-90, 5 miles per hour on SR 522.

That, however, corresponds with a predicted 20 mile-per-hour increase on 520, for anyone willing to pay the up to $3.50 toll for peak travel over that bridge.  This increase will come after a "period of adjustment where people modify their travel schedules to take advantage of transit, telecommuting and off-peak times," said WSDOT spokesman Shawn Devine.

"It's a tough question," said Bianca Cortez, when asked whether she preferred a quicker, costlier commute, to a longer, cheaper one.

If approved by the legislature, to drive across the 520 Bridge, drivers would pay:

  • $3.50 each way during peak hours - 7:00 - 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
  • Off-peak rates will range from $0 to $2.80
  • Free during the overnight hours of 11 pm to 5 a.m.

According to the detailed proposed rate schedule, larger trucks would pay more per axle. 

WSDOT anticipates westbound diversions off SR 520 to increase I-90 traffic by 8.3 percent during peak hours, SR 522 traffic by 11.7 percent, and I-405 traffic by 2.7 percent per hour.  Eastbound traffic will see similar increases --  7.2 percent on I-90, 6.4 percent on SR 522, and 1.2 on I-405.

But it's not just the highways impacted. 

The City of Bellevue expects more traffic on major city streets along I-90, from 148th Ave SE to Bellevue Way, as drivers cut through town.

"We do expect there to be a transition period," said David Grant, Bellevue Transportation spokesman.

Grant said the city will be adjusting its "smart" traffic signals to help ease congestion, and is working with King County Metro and Sound Transit to encourage people to van pool and take buses.

But until the tolls start, they're just not sure what's going to work.

"[The signals] will be a great improvement, but they can only do so much," Grant said.

Ultimately, some drivers said they'll just have to bite the bullet and pay the toll, especially since they believe the goal of paying for a new bridge is worth it.

"I mean, it's frustrating but you've got do what you've got to do," said Cortez. "You have to get money somewhere."  

The tolling is expected to being in spring 2011, said WSDOT.

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