The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Public will balk at paying tolls on I-90 to pay for 520

Adding tolls to pay for bridge would take a toll on the public

By Jim Horn

Special to The Times

Months after the region's voters rejected a joint roads-transit measure that included part of the funding needed to replace the Highway 520 Bridge, Gov. Christine Gregoire is trying to persuade the Legislature to try a different funding approach to replacing it.

While it's good to see the governor show some belated leadership on this important transportation need, her proposal contains a major flaw and should be rejected by legislators. The flaw in her plan is tolling the Interstate 90 Floating Bridge to help pay for a future 520 Bridge.

I believe the public will reluctantly accept tolls for new infrastructure that adds capacity across water. But the public is not willing to accept tolls over existing roadways built with their taxes, be they over water or land!

To get public acceptance, one must first talk about how tolls are going to be protected — before talking about what the tolls are.

A recent Washington Policy Center poll showed that 81 percent of voters think tolls should only be used for road and highway projects, not for other governmental needs. How will that be ensured?

On what exactly will the money be spent? According to the poll, 70 percent of voters say traffic congestion is the problem. The public expects toll money to be spent on new infrastructure that adds capacity needed to reduce congestion.

One should remember a bit of history: Many years ago, a toll was proposed to pay for added capacity and improved safety on Highway 18. Tolling an existing highway caused such an uproar from communities depending on Highway 18 that it was eliminated from the proposed-projects list.

I would hope that we don't make the same mistake by trying to impose tolling on existing highways, namely I-90. Otherwise, we risk seeing replacement of the aging 520 Bridge take another major step backward, costing us years in the process.

Some people argue that if you put a toll on the existing 520 Bridge to pay for a new one, you also have to put a toll on the I-90 Bridge to deter motorists from crowding the free span.

I don't think it's a persuasive argument. I think few drivers would change their preferred driving route across Lake Washington. People living north of Highway 520 wouldn't come further south on Interstate 405 to go west across the I-90 Bridge and then back north on Interstate 5. They'd still go across the 520 Bridge or go around the north end of the lake.

Only that relatively small percentage of Eastside residents who live between the Highway 520 and I-90 corridors would have a choice. If the I-90 Bridge were to become too crowded, some people living south of I-90 may choose to go around the south end of the lake. With the proposed improvements to I-405, some people may choose that route over I-90 anyway.

The I-90 Bridge is different from the 520 Bridge because the former has Mercer Island dividing it into two spans. I-90 is the only way on and off the island. There is no way Islanders would accept tolling on that existing infrastructure.

Since I-90 runs across the continental U.S., tolling may also pick up opposition from Eastern Washington interests that depend on this highway to move their products to markets or ports.

I know the governor is searching for a solution to the challenge of paying for a new 520 Bridge, but her tolling plan, embodied in Senate Bill 6754, isn't fair.

People who depend on the I-90 Bridge shouldn't be forced to pay a costly toll day after day to help fund a new bridge in another corridor. And we certainly shouldn't toll an existing roadway, which would totally run counter to how we have paid for prior highway projects.

Jim Horn is a former Mercer Island mayor and the former chairman of the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee. He represented the 41st Legislative District

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