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Drivers tweak commute times for tolled SR 520 bridge

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Date:  Thursday, January 05, 2012

Contact: Good To Go! customer service 1-866-936-8246.

SEATTLE – 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.”

Recent traffic data shows more drivers are taking State Route 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 the bridge 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.

The four-week period in December and January traditionally has the lowest traffic volumes due to three official holidays – Christmas, New Years 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.

Interesting traffic data for Wednesday, Jan. 4, includes:

  • 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.
  • Traffic across I-90 increased eight percent and drivers were moving more slowly due to heavy rain and multiple collisions during the evening commute.
  • Both I-90 and SR 520 saw an uptick in drivers between 6 and 7 a.m.
  • Traffic in both directions of SR 522 between Seattle and Woodinville was up about four percent with morning and midday travel times in the normal range. Evening collisions led to lengthier eastbound commutes.
  • The morning commute had good weather. The afternoon commute saw heavy downpours and multiple collisions.

“Traffic will always change in heavy rain, and it’ll adapt to navigate around collisions and lane closures,” said Stone.

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.

Customer service
Drivers continue to activate new Good To Go! accounts with 3,243 opened yesterday, Jan. 4. A total of 173,740 accounts have been opened since February 2011. The 24-hour average for vehicles on SR 520 with the Good To Go! pass was 69 percent. An estimated 31 percent used photo tolling.

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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