TUNNEL TOLLING: First 3 days of data show ‘diversion’ not as bad as it could have been

So how many people are dodging the Highway 99 tunnel now that tolls are being charged? We’re just out of a downtown briefing where WSDOT and SDOT reps shared the answer, which is basically: Not as much as feared. They cited Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday data, saying that over those three days, tunnel volume averaged no more than 30 percent below pre-toll levels. (There had been projections suggesting up to 50 percent “diversion.”) Alaskan Way, accessible from the pre-tunnel Dearborn exit from NB 99, had somewhat higher usage, but 1st and 4th were “typical.”

Too soon to declare a definitive trend, cautioned WSDOT’s toll-operations director Ed Barry and SDOT’s downtown-mobility director Heather Marx, but that’s what they have so far. About 75% of those going through the tunnel had eiiher a Good To Go pass or account, so the other 25 percent will be getting bills in the mail. (If you’re waiting for the system upgrade that will allow you to use GTG without putting $30 in the account first, that’s not going to be available until next year. We recorded the briefing/Q&A, held in SDOT’s Traffic Management Center, on video, and will add it after we get back to HQ.

ADDED 5:44 PM: Above, video of the entire briefing/Q&A, which lasted just under 15 minutes. Side note: Pre-briefing, we asked Marx about the pre-tunnel bus lane, the length of which was tweaked some weeks back. She said it’s “working exactly as planned” and that its importance will increase even further when buses switch to Alaskan Way, which she said is expected to happen in January.

27 Replies to "TUNNEL TOLLING: First 3 days of data show 'diversion' not as bad as it could have been"

  • Peter November 15, 2019 (4:12 pm)

    I haven’t experienced any noticeable change in traffic on 99, in downtown, or through SODO. 

    • Wendell November 15, 2019 (4:29 pm)

      Yep, folks are still barreling through at 70mph on the weekend.

  • WS Guy November 15, 2019 (4:25 pm)

    I’ll bet they are going to gradually raise the tolls until they reach a point where they hit the diversion target. 

    • WSB November 15, 2019 (5:54 pm)

      That wouldn’t make any sense – it would bring in less money. Anyway, the state can’t just change the toll rates at will. Current plan is for a three percent increase every three years, starting in 2022.

      There is a provision for the Transportation Commission to have an annual review, so if diversion for some reason INCREASES and revenue is below expectations, perhaps then they would take another look.

      • WS Guy November 16, 2019 (5:30 pm)

        Incorrect.  Revenue can increase.  If the state gradually (annually) raises tolls to 200% of today’s tolls, and as a result goes from 30% diversion to 50% diversion, then revenues will increase by 43%.  For example.  Plus they will get to punish more drivers, which is the formula that they really seek to maximize.

  • Remove unnecessary bus lane November 15, 2019 (4:52 pm)

    Perhaps now we can get rid of the bus lane where no shoulder exists to improve traffic flow on the West Seattle Bridge as it was prior the addition of the bus lane which was putting in place in an unnecessary abundance of caution.

    • Feep November 15, 2019 (5:25 pm)

      I’d rather just get rid of your car so my bus runs more efficiently.

      • AMD November 15, 2019 (6:15 pm)

        Couldn’t agree more.  If I had my way, there would be one carpool lane, one bus lane, and one lane for SOVs.  That’s how you make transportation efficient: reward choices that ease congestion.

      • K. Davis November 15, 2019 (9:12 pm)

        @ Feep … What a kind and thoughtful comment to your fellow citizen.  So respectful and adds to the public discourse.  Donald Trump would be proud of you.  

        • Leelee November 16, 2019 (7:37 am)

          Donald trump is proud of people who ride the bus?

        • Feep November 16, 2019 (12:57 pm)

          Tell me how my comment differs from folks trying to remove bike and bus lanes? I own a car, but I don’t like driving downtown. We have great transit, we should be using it. Selfish drivers who don’t want to spend an extra 10 minutes on the bus cause congestion. How thoughtful of all my fellow citizens who delay my bus by illegally pulling into the delridge bus lane to beat their fellow commuters to the bridge. How thoughtful they must be to put their needs above the 80 bus occupants waiting behind them and the half a dozen folks at the Andover stop waiting in the rain to board. But you’re right, telling people I’d rather their car stay off the road for my commutes is inconsiderate.

          • Kyle November 16, 2019 (2:09 pm)

            Feep,I’m a regular 120/125 bus rider. I’m for bus lanes that help buses reached their destination faster (and bus lane enforcement, etc.). From my experience, the reinstalled 1/2 mile bus lane on 99 north doesn’t help my bus get downtown any faster. It just moves the bottleneck from the Dearborn exit to the cloverleaf on the west Seattle bridge so it takes the same amount of time and just frustrates drivers. I wish our leaders would actually show some data on if this improves bus times. I’d rather implement bus lanes, etc. where we actually have bottlenecks on the route.

  • John Smith November 15, 2019 (5:44 pm)

    Since the tolls started, I haven’t seen any garbage trucks or school buses in the tunnel during my morning commute. I like this change, since 100% of the garbage trucks and school buses headed north at that time of day were speeding.

  • Graciano November 15, 2019 (6:35 pm)

    I just looked at the camera a couple minutes ago…., not a single car. 

  • TiredofGovernmentGreed November 15, 2019 (6:53 pm)

    Wow – WSDOT definition of success:  only 30% of the taxpayers reject your $3.1B tunnel and not 50%.   This waste-of-money tunnel that only a few use is why $30 car tabs passed.

    • K. Davis November 15, 2019 (9:16 pm)

      Could you please explain how this is a “waste of money tunnel”?  I’m curious.  Perhaps you know something the rest of us don’t.  

      • KM November 15, 2019 (11:34 pm)

        K, if you are curious, Google is your friend, and you can find these details yourself. There are a lot of reports and articles from the past 7 or 8 years that will provide you with number and different viewpoints on this controversial tunnel. 

    • Peter November 15, 2019 (10:51 pm)

      The tunnel is not funded by car tabs. If you voted for $30 car tabs because you’re upset about the tunnel, that indicates you don’t really understand the funding of tunnel, what I976 actually does, or what car tabs are used for. 

      • chemist November 16, 2019 (1:54 am)

        Why do you think that?  The folks saying to vote no on 976 said it went to bridge maintenance, pothole filling, ferries, and pretty much everything you expect WSDOT does.  Some goes into local transit like the Seattle TBD and Sound Transit too.

  • mnw November 15, 2019 (8:05 pm)

    I would also like to see the bus lane removed now that their worst fears (everyone diverting to Dearborn) have not occurred. In my previous email response from SDOT, they mentioned the upcoming tunnel tolling being one of the reasons they reinstated the bus lane. Why they couldn’t just wait to see what happened when tolling began baffles me. Also, most of the traffic for buses was due to the lane closures on Alaskan Way and had nothing to do with not having a bus lane. Now that Alaskan is 2 lanes each way that is not an issue anymore. Very frustrating our transportation leaders did not see or understand this. I have sent another email to Lisa Herbold and Sam Zimbabwe. We need to keep the complaints coming if we want any chance of the lane being removed. 

  • Martin November 15, 2019 (8:41 pm)

    There would be absolutely no problem with the bus lane if incompetent drivers who fail to notice the signs realize how long they actually have to merge. Day after day I get held up as people try and merge immediately or merge illegally while I wait until the end is in sight before merging and avoiding any slow down of me, cars behind me and cars already in lane 1. This is not rocket science, just basic common sense.

  • KD November 15, 2019 (9:03 pm)

    Well, this being for West Seattle and southbound tunnel folks, I realize, but as a Metro Bus Driver going northbound out of town (via Blanchard onto Dexter) it has been hell starting this past Tuesday (the first real workday after the Monday holiday) I used to be on or near time doing the n/b #62 up to Fremont, but now we sit in bumper to bumper barely moving traffic from downtown up Dexter.. all parallel to the tunnel n/b. Really notice the difference. All the buses are now about 14-17 mins. late every night during rush hour now (goodbye to my so-called rest break at the end of the line!) Another Rte. #8 driver was telling me they are late because everything really backs up on Denny Way. I notice Denny and Mercer backed up like it used to before all the Mercer Mess work. It sucks. Definitely because of not taking the tunnel, it shows. 😡

  • Driver November 15, 2019 (9:48 pm)

    No one is talking about the longer line of cars to I-5 from West Seattle

  • Mj November 16, 2019 (9:02 am)

    Driver – yes the queue to enter onto SR – 5 NB is greater now!  

  • Kayo November 16, 2019 (2:41 pm)

    I drove home at 5 pm on Thursday night and the tunnel southbound was empty.  This is highly unusual.  Normally it has been very slow at that hour.  Same thing last night at 6.  Speed limit plus the entire way.  The toll is definitely having a noticeable impact.  It will cost me almost 300 a month between parking and the tunnel now but my current situation makes the bus commute time unworkable and my work is literally right on the opposite side of the tunnel so going another way just doesn’t make sense.  I guess I am lucky I can afford the “tunnel for the affluent“ as I think of it now, but feel bad for those who can’t afford it.  

  • Mj November 16, 2019 (4:28 pm)

    Kayo – empty tunnel = faster travel time

  • Jess November 16, 2019 (9:12 pm)

    West Seattle got screwed with that tunnel. No exits to Seneca or from Columbia. C bus takes ages to get through stupid Pioneer Square. 

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