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.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sims wants to use SR 520 tolls to pay for transit

Pay for transit as part of tolls package for 520 bridge


Not too long ago policymakers believed talk of highway tolling was taboo; they thought the public wasn't ready to consider tolling. However, a survey of 500 King County residents shows the public is way ahead of policymakers. The poll found 89 percent of people rate congestion relief as urgent or extremely urgent. The poll also found resounding support for variable tolling on state Route 520 as one solution.

We have worked the congestion issue with the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Puget Sound Regional Council and received a $127 million federal Urban Partnership Grant to fund new tolling technology and to pay for 35 additional buses in the 520 corridor. The grant, which will put 1 million new bus passenger trips on the corridor each year, requires variable tolling on state Route 520 by September 2009.

Understanding that variable tolling is the best means to reduce congestion and replace the 520 bridge without new taxes, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed her 520 finance plan in January. I applaud the governor for her leadership. The House has already taken the first step toward this goal when it passed the 520 tolling policy and finance bills. What is needed now is specific language to finance transit as part of the package.

Variable tolling is market driven. Tolls would be lower when fewer people are on the road and higher during peak traffic hours, much like the way movie theaters charge less for matinees when fewer people come to the theater. Because half the drivers on the road during peak times are not commuting to work, variable tolling reduces congestion by giving drivers more options and encouraging people to combine trips, drive more at off-peak times, car pool or use improved transit.

The poll showed nearly two-thirds of county residents think the Legislature should support a 520 package that includes tolling, and 82 percent support early tolling to pay for a new bridge. The poll also shows:

# 82 percent support tolling over increased gas and excise taxes.

# 84 percent support tolling over general tax increases.

# 63 percent agree both 520 and the I-90 bridge should be tolled to prevent drivers from diverting to I-90 to avoid the tolls and to generate money for I-90 maintenance and more transit.

# Experience in San Diego shows even low-income residents support variable tolling over taxes because it gives them choices and is less burdensome.

King County residents seek choice. They want the opportunity to choose to pay the toll, travel at a different time or take transit. In order for that choice to be meaningful, we need enhanced transit in the 520 corridor. Support for variable tolling on both bridges drops 20 points when transit investments are not included. The good news here is that people see transit as a reliable option and are getting on the bus across the county in record numbers. Metro Transit's January 2008 ridership is up a record 18.7 percent compared with January 2005.

We've made a good first step; let's not stop here. Let's listen. Let's pass a 520 finance package this session that funds enhanced transit giving us all real choice. If we don't, we'll be missing a historic opportunity to reduce congestion.
Ron Sims is King County executive.

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