Lawmaker asks Gov. Inslee to shut off I-405 toll lanes

Representative Mark Harmsworth says enough is enough with I-405’s express toll lanes. Now, he’s calling the governor.

“I obviously have concerns, as do many of my constituents and others, that the way we have implemented the toll lanes on I-405 is incredibly inefficient…” Harmsworth said. “And we are wasting a lot of money with our tolling vendor, and just the way it’s implemented is incredibly unfair to those who can afford it, and not afford the toll lanes.”

Harmsworth represents the state’s 44th District, which includes Mill Creek. After I-405’s express toll lanes failed to meet one of two required metrics, he sent a letter to Governor Jay Inslee asking him to intervene.

“WSDOT’s director works for the governor, so I would certainly hope he can get into his room and talk to him about this,” Harmsworth said. “There’s no reason why we couldn’t open (the lanes) to all until the Legislature reconvenes in January and we can figure out what to do with this whole program.”

The express toll lanes on I-405 were implemented with the notion that they would be tested for two years. If they were not able to pay for themselves, or traffic in the lanes wasn’t able to maintain speeds of 45 mph, 90 percent of the time, they would be considered a failure.

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The lanes are paying for themselves. In fact, they have raised so much money the state has millions in excess toll revenue. But they only hit 45 mph about 82 percent of the time — short of the 90 percent goal. That 8 percent gap is enough to shut them down, Harmsworth says.

But the Washington State Department of Transportation isn’t acting so quick. It first questioned if it had to stop the express lane program if only one metric wasn’t being met. It went to the state attorney general’s office to get an opinion. Harmsworth says WSDOT has no intention of shutting them down at this point.

“So this is the straw that broke the camel’s back here, that they just decided to go right ahead and ignore the will of the people that was put into place years ago to make this just a two-year trial,” Harmsworth said.

“They needed to meet both,” he said. “If you think about it, if they didn’t need to meet both then it would be pretty hard not to have a situation where they would ever turn the lanes off. This is really them playing with language, using lawyers, coming up with something that meets where they want to go, rather than following the intent, or the will of the people … which was to turn them off after two years. Their own data clearly says it isn’t working, so it’s time to turn them off.”