waruc logoOLYMPIA – Washington drivers are ready to get behind the wheel and test a new way to pay for our roadways. Since active recruitment of drivers began last fall, the Washington Road Usage Charge Pilot Project has heard from nearly 5,000 drivers from every corner of Washington state who have expressed interest in participating. With the recruitment phase now complete, starting today (Tues., Feb. 6) the Washington State Transportation Commission will begin inviting drivers to enroll and fill the 2,000 available spots in this year-long pilot. 

“We are thrilled with the strong response and interest in participation from Washington drivers,” said Joe Tortorelli, chair of the Washington Road Usage Charge Steering Committee and Washington state transportation commissioner from Spokane. “It’s exciting to know that so many drivers are interested in this unique opportunity to inform future transportation policy – we hope to see a continued strong response throughout the enrollment process.”

Over the next few weeks, invitations to potential participants will be sent via email until all 2,000 drivers are enrolled. The enrollment goal is for a participant pool that best represents state demographics, including geographic location (rural, urban, and suburban), race, income, and gender. Types of cars driven will also be considered, as the pilot is aiming for a mix of electric, hybrid, and gas-powered vehicles. The 2,000 drivers that ultimately enroll will test a simulation of a road usage charge system and provide feedback on their experience throughout the pilot.

Drivers who are not invited to participate will be placed on a wait list and will remain on our interested drivers list so they can stay in the loop as the project progresses. If participants drop out of the pilot project, or if invited participants do not enroll, drivers on the wait list will be invited to fill the open spots.

The findings from the pilot project will be presented to the legislature and the governor before they make any decisions about whether to enact a road usage charge in Washington. Public participation in the pilot is crucial, as it will inform future decision-making. The pilot will conclude in early 2019 and a report will be presented to the legislature during the 2020 legislative session.

WSDTlogo450OLYMPIA – Several tolling items, including future tolling for the State Route 99 tunnel in Seattle, are on the agenda for next week’s Transportation Commission meeting in Olympia.

The meeting starts 9 a.m. each day, Wednesday, Jan. 17, and Thursday, Jan. 18, at the Transportation Building, 310 Maple Park Ave. SE, on the Capitol Campus in Olympia.

On Wednesday, the commission will kick off the next update of the statewide transportation plan with a briefing on the suggested focus for the next plan. Commissioners also will discuss the public review and input process that will take place during 2018. The Washington Transportation Plan establishes a 20-year direction for the statewide transportation system, based on six transportation policy goals established by the Legislature related to: preservation, safety, mobility, environment, stewardship, and economic vitality.

Tolling items fill out the rest of Wednesday’s agenda. The Legislature has directed the Transportation Commission to adopt tolls to generate $200 million towards the construction cost of the tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. At 1 p.m., the City of Seattle, King County Metro and the Northwest Seaport Alliance will share their priorities and concerns with prospective toll policies and rates. This input will inform the commission’s toll rate and policy proposal, which it will release in spring for public review and input. Tolls will be adopted in fall 2018 and will vary by time of day to manage congestion on the facility and impacts on surface streets.

In addition, commission and Washington State Department of Transportation staff will present recommended system-wide changes to toll policies and rules with the intent of greater consistency across all tolled facilities. Proposed changes will focus on toll exemptions, and if advanced, the proposed changes will be released in spring for public review and input before changes would be adopted. The commission also will discuss proposed changes to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge policy requiring maintenance of a sufficient minimum balance in the bridge’s account. Action by the commission on this policy is expected.

On Thursday, the commission will get a progress report on preparations for the upcoming launch of the statewide Road Usage Charge Pilot Project. A road usage charge (RUC) is a per-mile charge drivers would pay for the use of the roads, rather than paying by the gallon of gas. The RUC would be a replacement to the gas tax to provide a more sustainable, long-term funding source for transportation infrastructure, in light of growing fuel efficiency of new vehicles. The pilot project will have 2,000 volunteers from across the state testing four different ways to pay by the mile. It will run for the next 12 months to determine how the RUC works for drivers under various conditions and travel behaviors.

Thursday’s agenda also includes a legislative preview of 2018 priorities from city, county, port and transit partners, along with a report from WSDOT on its work exploring partnerships with the private sector that would potentially aid in the funding and financing of ferry terminal facilities, transit-oriented development, and the possible replacement of the US 2 westbound trestle in Snohomish County.

This commission meeting is open to the public and persons wishing to speak to the commission may do so during several public comment periods throughout the two-day meeting.

For more information about the commission and a complete meeting agenda, visit: www.wstc.wa.gov/

wsdot logoOLYMPIA – As unemployment in Washington state approaches pre-recession levels, more drivers hit the road in 2016, and again followed the lead of the local economy.

Between 2014 and 2016, commuters in urban areas throughout Washington saw increases in congestion and delay, due largely to the effects of drivers traveling more miles on already-crowded urban highways. The number of miles drivers traveled on state highways increased 6.4 percent from 2014 to 2016 (to a new high of 34.227 billion), according to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s 2017 Multimodal Corridor Capacity Report.

In addition, 3.2 percent more passenger vehicles registered in 2016 than in 2014. During the same period, the number of licensed drivers increased by 4.3 percent. All these factors combined to add more drivers to Washington state’s already busy roadways.

The number of people riding transit during daily peak periods increased 8 percent on urban commute corridors, from 88,150 in 2014 to 95,300 in 2016. As an example, transit moved 4.5 general-purpose lanes full of cars—equivalent to 52,887 people–on I-5 between Federal Way and Everett during morning and evening peak periods on average weekdays.

Other highlights from the 2017 Report include:

  • Of the five monitored freeway corridors in the central Puget Sound region, three (I-5, I-405, I-90) saw congestion increases of 76 percent, 33 percent and 117 percent, respectively, from 2014 to 2016. Tolling and carpooling reduced congestion on SR 520 by 61 percent, while congestion on SR 167 experienced a 4 percent increase compared to 2007 pre-recession levels.
  • Travel times are lower and person throughput is higher in High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes as opposed to the general-purpose lanes. An example of this is the HOV lane on I-5 at Northgate where travel times were up to 10 minutes more reliable and the movement of people was about 2.5 times higher than in the adjacent general-purpose lanes in 2016.
  • HOV lanes accounted for 42 percent of person miles traveled on central Puget Sound region freeways in 2016 while accounting for 24 percent of the region’s lane miles.
  • WSDOT Incident Response teams responded to 25.4 percent more incidents (58,235 total) in 2016 than in 2014, with average clearance times around 12 minutes for both years. Proactive work by Incident Response teams resulted in $88 million in economic benefit in 2016, an 18.1 percent increase from 2014.
  • WSDOT Ferries annual ridership increased 4 percent from 23.2 million in 2014 to 24.2 million in 2016.
  • Amtrak Cascades annual ridership increased 5 percent from approximately 700,000 in 2014 to 735,000 in 2016.

To learn more about WSDOT’s performance or to review the 2017 Corridor Capacity Report, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/Accountability/.

wsdot logoToday’s (Monday, Dec. 18) tragic derailment of the Amtrak Cascades southbound train has significantly impacted the lives of many this morning. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this event and their families.

We are working closely with multiple partners, including Washington State Patrol, Sound Transit, Amtrak, Pierce County, JBLM and local emergency responders to assess the situation and render assistance. After emergency response is complete, and the National Transportation Safety Board has released the scene, the train will be removed from the interstate right of way. We anticipate this will be a lengthy process due to the severity of the incident and the size and weight of the train cars. WSDOT is working with other agencies on any rerouting of traffic during the investigation.

The Amtrak Cascades train service is jointly owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Amtrak operates the service for the two states as a contractor, and is responsible for day-to-day operations. Amtrak Cascades runs trains from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon.

The tracks, known as the Point Defiance Bypass, are owned by Sound Transit. The tracks were previously owned by BNSF and were used for occasional freight and military transport. WSDOT received federal grants to improve the tracks for passenger rail service. As owners of the corridor, Sound Transit managed the track upgrade work under an agreement with WSDOT. Funding for the upgrades was provided by the Federal Railroad Administration, which reviewed work throughout the duration of the contract.

Today was the first day of public use of the tracks, after weeks of inspection and testing.

wsdot logoHelp make your travels less stressful by leaving early and using WSDOT tools to prepare and stay up-to-date

OLYMPIA – No matter what your holiday plans, being prepared for winter conditions and holiday traffic will help make your trip smoother. The Washington State Department of Transportation urges all travelers to “know before you go” and plan ahead for smoother travel.

Three-day Christmas weekends are rare – the last one on a Monday was in 2006 – but traffic analysts have used historical data to produce travel time charts predicting this year’s heaviest travel times. One note: WSDOT traffic analysts warn that winter weather is unpredictable, so be prepared for snow and ice no matter where you travel and know that a sudden snowstorm can affect the travel time projections.

The agency provides several other tools to help plan holiday travels:

  • Check out online tools, including mobile apps, traffic cameras and email alerts.
  • Visit our online traveler information about traffic, weather and ferry schedules.
  • Follow WSDOT’s social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook.
  • Pre-program 530 AM and 1610 AM to vehicle radios for highway advisory radio alerts.
  • Carry chains and other winter driving essentials.
  • Check current chain and traction requirements on the WSDOT passes website or by calling 5-1-1, and watch for highway advisory signs.
  • Leave extra time for holiday and winter travel, slow down and drive appropriately for conditions. Often crashes or pass closures are due to drivers going too fast or traveling without proper equipment.

Mountain passes

In the mountains, State Route 123 Cayuse Pass (elevation 4,675 feet), State Route 20 North Cascades Highway (elevation 5,477 feet) and Chinook Pass (elevation 5,430 feet) are closed for the winter.

On Snoqualmie Pass (elevation 3,022), you can receive text alerts for pass delays 30 minutes or longer – text “wsdot snoqualmie” to 468311 to subscribe, and “wsdot stop” to unsubscribe.

Tolls

In the Puget Sound, the State Route 520 bridge will have weekend toll rates on Monday, Dec. 25. Travel is free on the Interstate 405 express toll lanes on Christmas day, returning to normal toll and HOV requirements from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 26. I-405 express toll lanes are always free on weekends and evenings. Out-of-town travelers can learn about toll roads and short-term account options on the Good to Go! visitors page. If renting a vehicle, check with the rental agency about their tolls policy and fees.

Other travel alternatives

Travelers planning a trip by ferry, train, personal aircraft or bus also should make plans to avoid holiday delays:

  • Please plan ahead for heavy holiday ferry traffic and consider purchasing tickets online to save time. The longest lines are expected westbound Friday afternoon and evening, Dec. 22, and eastbound throughout the day Monday, Dec. 25, and Tuesday, Dec. 26. Reservations are recommended on the San Juan and Port Townsend/Coupeville routes. Some ferry routes run on Saturday schedules on the holiday, check the Washington State Ferries website or call 888-808-7977 for details.
  • Amtrak Cascades passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets early and should plan to arrive at the station one hour before departure. All Amtrak Cascades trains require reservations and trains fill up quickly during holidays, though two new daily roundtrips between Seattle and Portland starting Dec. 18 will offer travelers more options. Visit amtrakcascades.com/ or call 800–USA–RAIL for details.
  • For information about traveling via state-operated airports, visit wsdot.wa.gov/aviation/airports/Amenities.htm or call 800-552-0666.
  • Check with your local public transit agency for any holiday schedule or service changes, including some Dial-A-Ride and fixed-route service that may not run on holidays