Elected officials gathered in Kirkland on June 25 to learn more about the Interstate 405 Renton to Bellevue widening and express toll lanes project, Bus Rapid Transit and the Eastside Rail Corridor regional trail.
The I-405/SR-167 Executive Advisory Group has been advising the Washington State Department of Transportation on the I-405 corridor improvements since 1999, helping to implement a master plan developed in 2002.
Many large projects will open in 2024, helping to move people — by car, bus, bike and foot — more efficiently.
WSDOT secretary of transportation Roger Millar chairs the group. Members include state Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) and Bothell Deputy Mayor Davina Duerr. At Monday’s meeting, Deputy Mayor Jay Arnold represented the city of Kirkland, and council member Janice Zahn represented Bellevue.
To relieve congestion on the I-405 corridor, the group endorsed a 40-mile express toll lane system in 2010. The lanes from Bellevue to Lynnwood — which opened in 2015 — provide “a choice for a faster, more reliable trip when drivers need it most,” according to WSDOT’s website.
The controversial toll lanes continue to “outperform” general traffic, according to WSDOT officials. Now, the state is extending this system to the south.
Travelers on I-405 between Renton and Bellevue experience one of the state’s worst commutes. Construction on the I-405 Renton to Bellevue Widening and Express Toll Lanes project is expected to start in 2019 — funded by $1.3 billion of new investments in the corridor by the state Legislature through the Connecting Washington package — and end in 2024.
Critics of the tolls have questioned whether the lanes are meant to manage traffic or generate revenue for the state. The express lanes have brought in millions of dollars beyond collection costs, but by law, surpluses must be reinvested along I-405.
Toll proceeds collected throughout the corridor could be lucrative enough to support bond sales, which would require authorization by the Legislature. The corridor needs $710 million in investments, according to WSDOT, which includes $215 million that the Legislature already assumed would be provided by tolls.
WSDOT CFO Doug Vaughn said he was working with the state treasurer to analyze bonding options from toll revenue. The analysis assumed a $10 toll cap and current bond market conditions. This proposal was opposed by citizens in attendance at the June 25 meeting.
“You will be then committing to the idea that you’ve got to have congestion in order to generate the tolls to pay off the bonds,” said Vic Bishop, chair of the Eastside Transportation Association.
Local officials were also concerned with the construction impacts.
“It is a highly congested corridor already,” Zahn said. “We still need to actually operate on 405 while they’re building.”
The I-405 Master Plan doesn’t just include new lanes in each direction and a managed lanes system, but also local street improvements, transit improvements (including the new Bus Rapid Transit system) and bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
Eastside Rail Corridor
Curt Warber of King County Parks said that his staff is coordinating closely with the I-405 project teams to close some gaps in the region’s trail network with the ERC. A one-mile-long segment of the interim Eastside Rail Corridor Trail opened at 108th Avenue Northeast in Bellevue in June.
The goal of the trail is to connect the region and provide transportation and recreation opportunities. It will pass through Renton, Newcastle, Bellevue, Kirkland (on the Cross Kirkland Corridor), Redmond (on the Redmond Central Connector), Woodinville and Snohomish.
During the Renton to Bellevue express toll lanes project, WSDOT will construct a bicycle and pedestrian bridge to complete a missing gap in the ERC trail near Mercer Slough and construct 2.5 miles of paved trail in the ERC south of I-90 between Coal Creek Parkway and Ripley Lane. Design work is underway for the Northeast 8th Street Crossing and Wilburton Segment, including the Wilburton Trestle.
Funding is a question with this project. A county six-year parks, trails and open space levy ends in 2019. These projects are “very expensive and complex” and “beyond the scale of most trail projects in the region,” Warber said. A funding commission has been established to look at public-private partnerships.
On the other hand, the coming Bus Rapid Transit projects, including flyer stops at Northeast 85th Street in Kirkland and Northeast 44th Street in Renton, were fully funded with the passage of the Sound Transit 3 package in 2016. The service is expected to start in 2024.
Arnold thanked Sound Transit and WSDOT for their creativity in developing the design for the Northeast 85th Street station. The plan is set to go before the Sound Transit board in the next two to three months.
See www.wsdot.wa.gov/Tolling/EastsideCorridor/EAG2013.htm for more.