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Letter | SR-520 tolls arrive
It’s official: tolling on the SR-520 bridge started at 5 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 29. Starting tolling between Christmas and New Year’s Day was smart, because it allowed any initial wrinkles to be ironed out when traffic volumes were relatively low.
After holiday vacations end, however, traffic patterns could change almost daily for a while as commuters experiment with different routes and travel times. Mercer Island families and businesses are bound to be affected as some drivers try to avoid tolls by shifting to I-90.
Transportation leaders are working hard to make the transition period as smooth as possible, but Mercer Islanders can also help ourselves by packing some extra patience during drive times and knowing our options and tools.
Transit and ride-sharing options are definitely worth considering. Metro and Sound Transit are adding nearly 130 bus trips each day to help with the transition to SR-520 tolling. If you have friends living on the east side of the lake, let them know about the tips and tools on Metro’s 520 Bridge Tolling web pages. These pages also have important bus service and ride-sharing information for Mercer Islanders and other users of I-90.
Know the traffic conditions. Any driver can cut travel times by taking advantage of up-to-the-minute traffic information. You can get it by visiting the Seattle Area Traffic website, by dialing 511 Travel info on your phone, or by accessing traffic Twitter feeds. Once on the road, you can get real-time traffic information from the 44 “smarter highways” traffic signs that were recently added to I-90 and SR-520.
These dynamic overhead signs display variable speed limits and reduce the impact of blocking incidents by quickly closing impacted lanes and warning drivers of problems ahead. In fact, experience shows these signs can reduce injury accidents by 30 percent while effectively increasing roadway capacity by over 20 percent! That means fewer backups and less stop-and-go traffic.
Technological advances will also help tolling to go more smoothly. Long backups and fumbling for change at toll booths are history. The future belongs to electronic tolling that keeps traffic moving.
Travelers who rarely use SR-520, SR-167 HOT lanes or other tolled facilities can simply drive on through. A bill will be mailed to the vehicle owner automatically. But frequent users can save time and a great deal of money — $1.50 each trip on the SR-520 bridge — by getting a Good To Go sticker.
Washingtonians have already set up more than 120,000 Good To Go accounts this year. They’re available in many retail stores and come with several options to meet a variety of needs. You can learn all about the choices and benefits at the Good To Go website. You’ll also see how drivers can get deep tolling discounts by traveling during off-peak times. Making tolling as easy as possible should help to reduce traffic diversion to I-90 and other routes.
Final thoughts: transportation leaders have been preparing for SR-520 tolling for years. Even so, there are sure to be travel slowdowns on I-90 and other alternatives to SR-520 as cross-lake traffic rebalances.
Exploring transit and other travel times, driving or riding with friends, if you can, and giving yourself extra time to reach your destination will help to make travel in the weeks ahead smoother, safer and faster, for you and for all of us.
Rep. Judy Clibborn
Clibborn represents the 41st District and chairs the House Transportation Committee and the Joint Transportation Committee in the Washington State Legislature.