State legislators representing Washington’s 45th Legislative District said they are listening to constituents’ demands regarding the Interstate 405 tolls and traffic.
During a Feb. 20 town hall meeting at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology, Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond), Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) and Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) discussed their demands that WSDOT allow drivers to use the I-405 toll lanes for free during holidays, weekdays from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. and weekends.
They also recommended that WSDOT extend the entry and exit points on I-405.
“This is the most angry I’ve seen constituents in the past six years,” Hill said. “It’s a bipartisan issue.”
Senate Bill 6152, which Hill sponsored, and House Bill 2312 detailed these demands. Neither was voted on by the Senate or the House. During the current legislative session, Feb. 17 was the last day to pass bills in their houses of origin.
Gov. Jay Inslee also asked WSDOT to implement these plans during his visit to WSDOT’s Transportation Management Center in Shoreline on Feb. 16. The state Transportation Commission is now considering an emergency rule to lift the tolls during off-peak weekday hours, weekends and holidays.
Traffic conditions improved for drivers on I-405 between Bellevue and Kirkland after the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) implemented the tolls in September 2015, according to Springer.
But the area north of Bothell, Springer said, is a “recipe for gridlock.” He said WSDOT should make changes to the I-405 carpool lanes to increase capacity from Bothell to I-5.
Goodman said he receives more emails on this issue than any other issue.
“We’re going to dedicate the toll revenue to fixing the choke points on the road,” Goodman said. “We’re addressing it now. We’re going to fix it.”
Springer said constituents have also sent hundreds of emails to him regarding the tolling lanes. Only 10 percent of these constituents, he said, are happy about the tolls. Springer said public transit riders seem to like the tolling lanes, but most emails he receives are from drivers who are confused and frustrated by the tolls.
The 45th District includes residents of Woodinville, Redmond, Kirkland, Duvall and Sammamish.
During the meeting, all three legislators expressed dissatisfaction with the WSDOT’s implementation of the tolling lanes.
Hill described the DOT management as “incompetent and unresponsive.” Spring and Goodman shared similar concerns.
“For DOT to tell us that traffic is moving faster and more vehicles are getting through is ludicrous,” Goodman said. “They have to get their heads out of their bureaucratic state of mind and listen to us and listen to the citizens.”
Goodman added that he also wants to look out for people with limited means, such as students and older adults on limited incomes.
Springer said September was a terrible time to implement a new tolling system, as it caused confusion among drivers, who were trying to read the toll rate signs in the pouring rain during the worst traffic season of the year.
Residents also voiced frustrations with I-405 traffic and the Good to Go! electronic tolling system.
One constituent said she experienced a 70-minute wait when she visited the Good to Go! customer service center in Bellevue three months ago to update her pass. On Google reviews, the customer center currently has a 1.5-star average based on 40 reviews.
The constituent also asked the legislators if the Department of Transportation is receiving enough funding to provide the services people need. Hill responded that WSDOT brought in $3.7 million in the first three months of the I-405 toll lanes.
“I don’t think this is a money issue,” Hill said. “This is a management issue.”
The constituent added that the best way to solve the traffic issue is to make housing more affordable and to raise incomes in areas where people are working.
Although transportation was a priority discussion item during the meeting, constituents also shared concerns about policy issues such as public education, domestic violence and transgender bathrooms.