How has your commute changed since tolling began?

by guest blogger Victoria Tobin

It’s been nearly a month since we began tolling the SR 520 bridge. And every day since then we’ve kept a keen eye on traffic patterns. Not just on SR 520 and I-90, but the entire region – I-5, I-405, and even that Mercer Weave across the Ship Canal Bridge. We’re watching it all. The common denominator is, it’s all changing nearly every day.

This is the biggest traffic change we’ve had in Puget Sound in decades. Drivers are still figuring it out. While it’s too early to draw conclusions with firm percentages, we are obviously seeing more congestion on I-90 and less congestion on SR 520. But that’s what we expected. Here’s another fact - we had more people cross SR 520 on Wednesday, Jan. 25, than any other day since tolling began. You can see how the numbers are still in flux and people are making their way back to SR 520.

While we’d like to be able to say that after a month of tolling we’re finally starting to see the beginning of the “new normal” in terms of traffic patterns, we just can’t yet. The reality is, we’ve only been able to collect about 12 reliable days of traffic data in the last month. There have been too many unpredictable variables (collisions on SR 520 and a stalled semi-tanker on I-90, just to name a few) that have altered the traffic data we’re collecting.

Since tolling started we’ve had three separate holidays, a week-long snow and ice storm and we are still cleaning up after heavy winds – there were numerous collisions, construction work and the post-holiday traffic rush – all variables that have changed and affected traffic all over the region and have had a significant impact on what we’d typically call “normal traffic patterns.” As a result, traffic volumes were way down across the region, not just on the floating bridges.

This is the first week since tolling began where traffic volumes are getting back to more “normal” levels. You (the twitterverse) see it too, and you’ve been tweeting and facebooking us, wanting to know what’s going on. We believe traffic will keep changing, across I-90, across SR 520, on I-5 and even on your local buses for the next few days, weeks and months. We expect people will continue to tweak  their routes and times to find something that works for their schedule, like they’ve done since tolling started.

It’s still too soon to make any changes and draw big conclusions. One thing we know is that traffic throughout the greater Puget Sound region is all interconnected. A change in one place causes a ripple effect across the region and not always where you might expect. It’s probably going to take upwards of six months before commutes really start to settle out and we finally reach that new normal.

That all said, it would be interesting to hear and know what your commute has been like since tolling started. Have you tried different routes? Changed your commute times? Tried taking the bus or carpooling? Are you working from home? What has or hasn’t seemed to work for you?

Your comments will be factored in as we work through this change. Thanks!

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