This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
Austin Jenkins reports:
The bill as drafted says the Legislature would have sole authority to impose tolls, thus excluding local jurisdictions. Toll prices would be set by the Washington State Transportation Commission, an appointed body. The bill would allow tolls to continue to be collected after a project is paid off – a significant departure from current policy. Finally, the legislation permits toll prices to fluctuate between peak and off-peak travel times, which is called “variable pricing.” Other key decisions will be whether tolling can be used to manage demand and whether money raised from tolls could be applied broadly — say, to underwrite transit.
That last part is key. Our current state gas taxes can only be used for highways. Getting drivers to pay for transit projects would be a big shift, but a needed one. For example, Cascadia Prospectus, in the process of unveiling the Discovery Institute’s own plan, notes that the Port Authority of NY and NJ is going to increase the tolls on the Hudson River crossings to $8 at peak, in part to help finance a second commuter rail tunnel.
One can only imagine the kind of hysteria we’d see here in the Puget Sound, if, say, drivers crossing the 520 bridge had to pay a toll to help finance a light rail link. But that’s the direction we need to be going in. Thusfar the only such efforts (that I can recall) to have drivers subsidize transit — the Monorail and ST2 car-tab taxes — have fallen apart. And the success of I-695, which gutted the car-tab fees that were used to fund transit projects, has no doubt made lawmakers leery of taxing drivers to fund transit.
For all Prop. 1’s flaws, one upside was that it would have reinforced a holistic approach to transportation funding, and perhaps given credence to the idea that gas and car taxes could be used to fund transit projects. But maybe that’s being too optimistic.