520 Bridge Replacement
2:48 pm
Fri June 29, 2012

Tolls deterring fewer than expected on SR-520 Bridge

Tolling rates are going up on the 520 bridge this Sunday, in the first of four annual rate hikes. The 2.5%  increase will add about an extra dime to peak fees. It comes 6 months after tolling began on the bridge between Seattle and the east side.

The state says they also have a sense now of the effects of tolling on commuter patterns. Despite the $7 cost of a round trip at peak times, they are less of a deterrent than expected. Since tolling began, there has been up to 20% more weekday traffic on the bridge than projected, bringing in 6% more revenue. 

Still, traffic on the 520 bridge is flowing more freely than before the tolls. The state says it's moving with speeds of 45 miles per hour or faster almost all of the time. That’s saving drivers up to 15 minutes at peak times.

And it turns out alternate routes are less impacted than some had feared.

“It’s interesting, there’s about 10% more traffic on I-90 as well as on State Route 522 going around the lake through Kenmore,” says state Toll Director Craig Stone. But, he adds, the extra traffic isn’t causing much congestion.

”The travel speeds on average are only about two or three minutes longer going across I-90 now and on the north end around 522 during the peak periods, we’re tracking it very closely and we actually haven’t seen a reduction in travel speeds during the peak periods, so those are pleasant surprises.”

Some commuters still complain about certain hotspots that have emerged, especially approaching the I-90 bridge on I-405 in Bellevue and on I-5 in Seattle.

The state says people may be telecommuting more or adjusting their drive times. Data on these behaviors aren't tracked. We do know commuters are shifting more to mass transit. Since tolls kicked in, use of vanpools  on the 520 bridge has gone up by 18%. Bus routes on 520  have 1o% more riders.