Flashing lights signal I-405 express toll lane equipment install

If you drive I-405, you may have noticed toll equipment above
the lanes in certain areas. This equipment is similar to
what’s on SR 520.
By Emily Pace Glad

Many drivers have seen a blue flash above the HOV lane on Interstate 405 north of State Route 522. A few have asked us what it is. It’s part of the toll equipment that will anchor 17 miles of new express toll lanes on I-405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood in late 2015.

Throughout 2014, crews were installing towering green structures over the roadway, known as gantries. Now they are outfitting those gantries with the gadgets that will allow tolling to work, including toll readers, cameras and special beacons that help Washington State Patrol with enforcing proper use of the lanes.

The blue flash you’ve seen is from testing the toll cameras that will help us take photos of a vehicle’s license plate. You may have seen a similar flash if you’ve used the SR 520 bridge. After we install the cameras on I-405, we need to make sure they are ready to take photos day and night as we work to get the system up and running and ultimately start tolling in 2015.

Based on feedback we heard from drivers, we made adjustments to the camera flashes up north, decreasing the intensity and changing the angle. We’ll use the same settings on the newly installed cameras. This, along with more ambient lighting in the south, should make the flashes less noticeable.

Crews wrapped up installing toll equipment north of SR 522 last year. Now they’ll install equipment between Northeast Sixth Street in Bellevue and SR 522. Once everything is set up there’s still a lot of fine tuning and testing to be done before we can open the express toll lanes to drivers. In the meantime, no tolls will be charged, and the HOV lane will continue to operate the same way it does today.

Scheduled lane closures the week of Jan. 19 include:
  • On Tuesday, Jan. 20, and Thursday, Jan. 22: Up to three lanes of southbound I-405 will close between Northeast 160th Street and Northeast 124th Street from 7 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.
  • On Wednesday, Jan. 21: Up to two lanes of southbound I-405 will close between Northeast 160th Street and Northeast 124th Street from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.
These closures are subject to change, so for the latest information, make sure you check our I-405 construction updates page.

The work we’re doing is part of a project to convert the I-405 HOV lane between Bellevue and Lynnwood to an express toll lane. In addition, between Northeast Sixth Street in Bellevue and SR 522 in Bothell, we’re building a second express toll lane to form a dual express toll lane system in both directions of I-405.

Why build express toll lanes?
If you use I-405, we don’t need to remind you that the highway experiences some of the worst traffic in the state, and the HOV lanes are full during peak periods. One of the primary objectives of the express toll lanes is to improve traffic performance.

The new express toll lane between Northeast 6th Street in Bellevue and SR 522 in Bothell will be paired with the existing HOV lane, to create two express toll lanes in each direction. This additional lane capacity, combined with dynamic toll rates that adjust based on traffic conditions, will allow us to manage traffic flow better and move more vehicles faster than we do in today’s carpool lanes.

In 2013, the I-405/SR 167 Executive Advisory Group composed of local elected officials and transportation agencies recommended a carpool policy where 3+ carpools ride free during peak times and 2+ carpools ride free at off-peak times. It will be up to the Washington State Transportation Commission to finalize this policy through a public process in the next few months.

Our traffic models predict that keeping a two-person carpool requirement will not allow us to meet our state and federal mandate of 45 miles per hour, 90 percent of the time during peak periods. Still, if we simply changed the carpool definition to 3+ without express toll lanes, the lanes would be underutilized. By building express toll lanes, we can fill those lanes back in by giving drivers the choice to use them.

As more drivers use the express toll lanes, traffic moves faster in the regular lanes, which will remain toll-free.

Still have questions about how the lanes will work? Check out our FAQs.