Tolling keeps traffic in flux
By REPORTER STAFF
Mercer Island Reporter Staff
January 11, 2012 · 9:28 AM
The Washington State Department of Transportation said last week that drivers are “navigating toward a new normal as they tweak their commute times and routes and get used to tolling on State Route 520.”
“After our first week, we’re beginning to see that variable tolling is working,” said Toll Director Craig Stone, of the Washington State Department of Transportation. “So far traffic has been free-flowing on SR-520 during the peak periods.”
Traffic data from Jan. 4 and 5 shows more drivers are taking SR-520. In the morning and evening commutes, traffic is reaching 75 percent of the pre-tolled levels. The overall daily volume is 57 percent of historic levels.
Drivers started their commutes earlier, before 7 a.m., on Wednesday, Jan. 4, on both I-90 and SR-520, while morning traffic data for Thursday, Jan. 5, shows drivers actually delayed their I-90 morning commute and more drivers used the tolled SR-520 bridge.
Drivers who don’t want to pay $3.50 to cross SR-520 after 7 a.m. are choosing to cross before 7 a.m., saving 70 cents by crossing earlier. Or they are heading to I-90 to avoid both the toll and congestion. Still, others are choosing to pay the toll during the peak and are finding a free-flowing commute.
“Tolling is only a week old and we’re not ready to draw any final conclusions just yet, but we are seeing drivers try new routes and times,” said Stone last week.
The four-week period in December and January traditionally has the lowest traffic volumes due to three official holidays — Christmas, New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Traffic data gathered now does not include the full regional traffic picture. WSDOT engineers say that won’t become totally clear until February.
Traffic data of a week ago, Wednesday, Jan. 4, included:
• Central Puget Sound traffic overall was down seven percent.
• Traffic across both Lake Washington bridges combined was down 11 percent.
• Traffic across SR-520 was down 43 percent and drivers were moving 5-10 mph faster.
• Both I-90 and SR-520 saw an uptick in drivers between 6 and 7 a.m.
• More drivers returned to SR-520 between 7 and 9 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 5. Nearly 75 percent of pre-toll drivers returned to eastbound SR-520.
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