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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Think TBX is getting opposition? Check out what's happening outside Seattle

15

February

FDOT's $3.3 billion Tampa Bay Express plan (or is it $6 billion?) has drawn mounting criticism and protests for months for its proposed use of toll lanes.

But that's nothing compared to the backlash aimed at express toll lanes on Interstate 405 outside of Seattle, which began charging motorists in September. More than 30,000 commuters have signed a petition to stop tolling on I-405 between Bellevue and Lynwood. "To have these tolls enacted upon us is horrendous, because it's a tax upon a tax upon a tax upon a tax," a driver, Cynthia Ulrich, told KOMOnews.com

Two state lawmakers are sponsoring legislation that would require the Washington State Department of Transportation to use only one Express Toll lane each way (it's two lanes each way now) and make all lanes free between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. and on state holidays. Earlier this month, the Washington Legislature voted to oust the WSDOT's secretary of transportation, partly based on the problems involving the toll lanes, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  

Whether or not residents embrace tolls to pay for roads is one issue. Quite another is whether the toll lanes actually do what the DOT says they do. A key rationale offered by the FDOT in pushing the TBX project is the claim that tolled lanes ease congestion on the lanes that aren't tolled. 

In fact, according to the TBX master plan, "reducing congestion on the Tampa Bay Region interstate system" is one of two primary objectives for the project (providing drivers with a "new mobility choice" is the other primary objective.)

"Express lanes are not a new concept," the January 2015 TBX master plan states. "They are a proven way to improve congestion and to generate revenue."

Since it opened on Sept. 27, the I-405 toll lanes have made money, collecting $3.7 million, well above the $1 million it was projected to collect. But an independent consultant, INRIX, found that while the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes that were converted to express lanes saw higher speeds, "speeds in the general-purpose lanes have generally gotten worse for the majority of drivers," according to the Post-Intelligencer

Uh oh. That's one of the two primary objectives for TBX. Now what?

Well, first, the WSDOT is disputing the findings. Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center, which is a research arm for the WSDOT, denounced INRIX's research as "biased" because, he said, it used too small a data sample. 

And over here in Tampa Bay, the FDOT will probably say the two projects are totally different and that you can't compare them. 

There are some important differences between I-405 and TBX. For one, TBX is going to add lanes to 275 without taking away any existing free lanes. In the I-405 project, the WSDOT actually took away free High Occupancy Lanes and converted them to toll lanes. But that's exactly what the FDOT did with I-95, and the FDOT likes to compare TBX to that project. In the 2015 TBX master plan, the FDOT said part of the premise for success with TBX is "based on the success of the 95 Express Lane projects in District Six and other express lanes projects across the country." The I-405 project was highlighted in the report.

So it should be interesting how the FDOT touts other toll lane projects as it promotes TBX in Tampa Bay. If Washington's I-405 project continues to have issues, the FDOT may have problems telling motorists here to pay no heed to what's happening up in the Pacific Northwest.

h/t to Planetizen

 

[Last modified: Monday, February 15, 2016 4:27pm]

    

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