Our Northwest

Traffic swells on 520 despite toll, construction

Thursday, March 17, 2016by  Jon Osterberg

Commuters who take SR 520 have noticed thicker traffic the past several months, and KIRO Radio reports it’s tough to discern why.
     I’m an Eastside commuter, but in my experience 520 has been gradually clogging up for two years, and I think it's unrelated to motorists growing accustomed to tolls. I correlate it with finished construction.
     When workers began tearing up 520 in 2011 between I-405 and Lake Washington, they built bumpy detours that weaved through heavy construction. Motorists fled the freeway – presumably for I-90 and routes around Lake Washington, as PEMCO learned when we polled local drivers about their changing driving patterns.
     For a couple of years the 520 commute became a joy. Traffic thinned, and I literally could drive from Redmond to the I-5 interchange without ever hitting my brakes.
     But once the Bellevue phase of construction ended, leaving three smooth lanes of new asphalt in each direction, traffic began to swell. Morning westbound backups now begin east of the Bellevue Way overpass.
     That tells me the toll on 520 is merely one factor, not the factor, influencing traffic volumes.
     KIRO reports that despite the uptick in morning traffic, overall 520 bridge traffic is still down 20% from pre-toll levels. That’s about right. Six years ago, Seattle-bound commuters hit stop-and-go as far east as I-405.
     Read the KIRO Radio story on MyNorthwest.com.
Photos courtesy of WSDOT

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