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Puget Sound Transportation Projects

Smarter Highways / Toll Corridors

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) are systems that provide information to drivers and allow control of lanes and speeds. These systems work together to manage traffic flow, anticipate problems, and provide information to road users. They can include traffic maps and cameras, lane and speed controls, and VMS signs.

WSDOT has long been at the forefront of ITS systems. The WSDOT Website has long provided traffic flow maps, focused mainly on Seattle but now expanded to many areas statewide. The maps also include live camera views, also now available on many roads across the state. This data is also used by various sources to provide information for drivers. Local media use the maps and cameras to track and report on incidents. Third party traffic information providers also utilize this information.

WSDOT has two projects both intended to reduce congestion and better manage scarce space and existing highway resources. The first of these projects is the Smarter Highways initiative. This project involves variable speed and information signs every half mile. The first section that will open is on Northbound Interstate 5 in Seattle, followed by the same systems on Interstate 90 and SR 520.

It remains to be seen how much this system will help, or hinder, traffic. However similar systems in England and Germany have functioned well for years. Of course they only function well if drivers pay attention to them.

The second set of projects are toll corridors. The primary project planned for now is the Eastside Corridor. This project would add a new set of HOV/HOT lanes to Interstate 405 from Renton to Lynnwood, with limited access. The intent is for people who need more rapid transportation to be able to pay a fee to use these lanes. This system would also potentially include a bus rapid transit (BRT) system as well.

This project is similar to the SR 167/Valley Freeway HOV/HOT lane test project, but with 4 lanes instead of 2 and more direct access ramps. The HOT lane test has so far progressed well, with some issues mainly related to accessing the lanes.

Thoughts Back to Top

While I know tolling is unpopular, the growing cost of highway construction and real estate make it next to impossible to construct projects using normal funding channels. This compromise at least makes the tolls optional; if you don’t want to use the lanes you don’t pay. Plus the added capacity will allow for more carpool and bus use.

The Eastside, the area of the state most in need of high capacity transit, is also the most underserved area in this sense. While light rail is now planned to access the area via Interstate 90, this project will not be completed until 2023, and would still require South and North end commuters to travel into Seattle to transfer. This system would allow greater access to Interstate 405 for these commuters.

As to the Active Traffic Management project, I think its usefulness remains to be seen. With limited secondary routes any information about slowdowns or accidents ahead is less than useful. However, by slowing traffic beforehand, assuming drivers pay attention to the signs, it may lower the amount of accidents, and possibly increase traffic flow, even if it flows slowly.

Future Back to Top

  • Implementation of the Active Traffic Management projects on Interstate 5, Interstate 90 and SR 520.
  • More studies and possible construction of the Eastside toll corridor
  • Future toll corridors?

Links Back to Top

Map: © Washington State Department of Transportation