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New lane on Interstate 405 near Bothell is in the works
For Bothell and the surrounding areas, state and local officials say adding a new northbound lane to Interstate 405 is a good starting point in terms of reducing local road congestion.
Still, probably needless to say, they also added, the project is only a start.
Officials are moving quickly forward with plans to place a new lane on Interstate 405 near Bothell, awarding a contract for the project Aug. 21.
Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) tabbed Kiewit Pacific Co. of Renton to design and build the new northbound lane at an estimated cost of $19.2 million.
Crews will build the lane between Northeast 195th Street and State Route 527. Numerous local and state officials point to that spot as the location of major, daily afternoon traffic jams.
The new lane is being added partly due to the availability of federal economic stimulus money, offered through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). According to the state, the federal funding means the project will be completed three years ahead of schedule.
But even as plans for the new lane move forward, in order for traffic to really begin flowing more smoothly along 405 during peak hours, WSDOT’s Eastside Corridor Deputy Director Stacy Trussler and local officials, such as Bothell Transportation Manager Seyed Safavian, said engineers and planners are looking at everything from restricted toll lanes to some sort of rapid transit system.
Besides Bothell, Trussler spoke about several other 405 choke points, all well known to local drivers: in Kirkland, in Bellevue and, probably most notably, in Renton. As many know, 405 between Renton and Bellevue commonly is regarded as one of the most congested roadways in Washington.
According to Trussler, WSDOT has on tap a plan to alter 405 between State Route 520 all the way to Interstate 5. State legislators put the brakes on the scheme so that WSDOT could study the possibility of toll lanes along 405. A final report is due in Olympia by the spring.
A former WSDOT engineer, Safavian said tolls and toll roads are a fairly new idea in the Northwest, but eastern states have used them successfully for years. In the case of 405, Safavian said one idea is to make use of existing HOV lanes, allowing solo drivers access to those lanes — for a price, of course.
At the same time, officials would be counting on some drivers simply being unwilling to pay the toll, keeping the lanes somewhat exclusive and allowing traffic to flow quickly enough to entice other drivers to ante up.
According to Safavian, a demonstration toll road set-up on State Route 167 is working quite nicely. Trussler said state officials feel toll-lane traffic needs to move at a steady minimum of 40-45 mph in order to make the tolls feasible. In the case of 405, she added the lanes would feature controlled access and be segregated from the rest of the freeway by a buffer zone of double white lines about four feet apart.
Besides hopefully moving vehicles more quickly, Trussler and Safavian also mentioned toll roads obviously would create a new transportation revenue stream, though neither said what the price for driving any 405 toll lane might be.
As for increased use of transit, Trussler said that idea has been written into the DNA of any 405 plan since late 2002. At that point, a state study resulted in a 405 master plan calling for adding no more than two new lanes to any stretch of 405. Safavian noted gaining right-of-ways for additional lanes likely would be cost prohibitive, in any case.
“The fact is, you could build dozens of lanes and still not solve the congestion,” Trussler added.
Instead of multiplying lanes, Trussler said WSDOT has settled on a three-pronged master plan for 405, one that emphasizes what she called managed traffic. She said the approach includes encouraging the use of van pools, an increase in the number of park-and-ride lots and continued study of potential toll lanes.
How does a freeway such as 405 get so jammed up in the first place?
Trussler said 405 originally was built as a by-pass to I-5. Then development simply sprung up around the new roadway. She added roads are now planned to accommodate 20-year traffic projections based on the growth management plans of adjacent communities.