Seattle Bridge Toll Eases Traffic. Will It Boost Transit, Too?

Signs alert Seattle-area drivers to the new tolls across the SR-520 bridge. The tolls appear to be easing congestion not only across the bridge, but on each of the highways it intersects with. Image: WSDOT via KPLU

Located on a pair of peninsulas, the city of Seattle isn’t so easy to reach from its eastern suburbs. Only two bridges cross Lake Washington. Newly-installed tolls across one of the two, the SR-520 bridge, have the potential to seriously reshape travel patterns in the region.

Already, traffic on the SR-520 bridge appears to have cleared up significantly. Reports Network member Publicola, “Not only is traffic on 520 itself ‘a breeze,’ but traffic seems to have eased on I-5, and perhaps I-405, the two north-south routes that connect 520 to parallel (and untolled) I-90, as well.” That congestion relief is coming during the Wednesday morning rush, the busiest traffic time of the week.

It’s too early to say whether the tolls’ traffic-busting effects will last, but congestion relief on three major highways would be big news. The possible impact of the tolls, though, could be even larger than a speedier drive into Seattle. Explains Sightline Daily’s Clark Williams-Derry, whose post inspired Publicola’s article:

I have to wonder whether the tolls on 520 are reducing overall traffic volumes across Lake Washington, rather than just shifting drivers from 520 to I-90. It’ll be interesting to see how the numbers fall out over the next few weeks—but if we’re paying for new roads with tolls, and tolls reduce traffic volumes, then the region might have to rethink whether we actually need all of the expensive new road projects that we’re planning.

If commuters headed into Seattle from across the lake are switching to the bus instead of just finding a new route to work, the new tolls could be the first step toward a more transit-friendly Seattle.

Elsewhere on the Network: Cyclelicious catches House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who wants to strip federal funding from programs like bike-share and safe routes to school, enjoying what looks like a beautiful bike ride. The Hard Drive profiles a new service that helps Portland homeowners rent out their unused driveways. And everyone’s talking about a Freakonomics forum on the profitability of Amtrak.