Last Thurs­day, after months of delays, the Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion (WSDOT) final­ly began tolling the Ever­green Point Float­ing Bridge over Lake Wash­ing­ton. Col­lec­tion of the toll (which is vari­able) began in the ear­ly morn­ing with no fan­fare or cer­e­mo­ny. Since that hour, there has been a cost to use the Ever­green Point Float­ing Bridge dur­ing day­light hours, and there will con­tin­ue to be for decades — per­haps indef­i­nite­ly, if tolling replaces the gas tax as a major rev­enue source for main­tain­ing roads and bridges.

WSDOT’s plan­ners had antic­i­pat­ed that usage of the Ever­green Point Float­ing Bridge would decline fol­low­ing the impo­si­tion of the toll, and they were correct:

Traf­fic was light Thurs­day, typ­i­cal for the week between the Christ­mas and New Year’s hol­i­days. Dri­vers appeared to shift their com­mute to alter­nate routes after toll col­lec­tions began. On the SR 520 float­ing bridge, traf­fic vol­umes were about 45 per­cent low­er com­pared to ear­li­er this week. Traf­fic vol­umes on the Inter­state 90 bridge and on SR 522 were some­what high­er than nor­mal for the hol­i­day week. Trav­el times were not notice­ably affected.

“This is about what we expect­ed,” [Toll Divi­sion Direc­tor Craig] Stone said. “We know peo­ple are test­ing new routes to avoid the new tolled bridge. This is also a hol­i­day week so over­all traf­fic is unusu­al­ly light. We want to make sure dri­vers are pre­pared for Jan. 3, when peo­ple head back to work and school is back in ses­sion. We expect to see a very dif­fer­ent traf­fic pic­ture then.”

Today is Jan­u­ary 3rd. The morn­ing com­mute is already over. So how was the traf­fic on the alter­na­tive routes? As it turns out not bad. 

The Seat­tle Times reports that con­ges­tion on I‑90 and SR 522, traf­fic was­n’t much worse than it is ordi­nar­i­ly is. Traf­fic vol­ume on SR 520 was down, as expect­ed, which made for faster trav­el times.

The evening com­mute is now about to get started.

What I’m curi­ous to see is whether the toll will make the Great Lake Wash­ing­ton Line­up (also known as the Kirk­land Crawl) a thing of the past.

I just came back across Lake Wash­ing­ton from Seat­tle less than an hour ago, and the bridge was eeri­ly emp­ty. Nor­mal­ly, around mid­day on a week­day, it’s busy. Not packed, but busy. Today, though? There was nobody any­where near me. Nobody. I felt like I could have coast­ed to a stop, parked, stepped out­side, and walked around… and I would­n’t have been in any­body’s way!

Before I set off, I set up a dash­cam so I could get a pic­ture while mak­ing my way across the bridge. Here’s what the view was like:

SR 520 Floating Bridge at Midafternoon on Tuesday, January 3rd
Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI

As you can see, it was wide open.

The bridge won’t be wide open dur­ing rush hour. But if it’s only busy, rather than packed (as it has been for years), that will great­ly cut down on delays… and pos­si­bly elim­i­nate the Great Lake Wash­ing­ton Line­up as we know it.

For those who reg­u­lar­ly use State Route 520 to get into or out of Seat­tle, the speed­i­er trav­el times will be a real bless­ing. That goes for Sound Tran­sit and Metro rid­ers as well as dri­vers. With few­er back­ups and delays, the 542 and 545 Express­es (among oth­er routes) will become more reli­able, which will increase their popularity.

I‑90, mean­while, will like­ly be more crowd­ed at all hours of the day, since it also goes across the lake and runs par­al­lel to 520. Get­ting on or off Mer­cer Island may cer­tain­ly become more chal­leng­ing that it has been in the past dur­ing rush hour.

But tak­ing I‑90 isn’t the only way to avoid the toll. Some peo­ple will avoid pay­ing it by tak­ing tran­sit. Oth­ers may use State Route 522. And still oth­ers will sim­ply reduce the num­ber of cross-lake trips they make.

Toll­pay­ers, mean­while, will enjoy a more reli­able commute.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “Will State Route 520 toll make bridge backups mostly a thing of the past?”

  1. The tolled bridge has cer­tain­ly made Sound Tran­sit’s 545 faster. Only prob­lem now is that the bus is too pop­u­lar. More ser­vice, please!

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