Stuck on 520 Floating Bridge
Traffic On 520 by flickr user Tom Harpel

A report issued by the “Tolling Implementation Committee” recommends tolling only the 520 bridge, and not the approaches closer to I-405 or I-5. The committee decided that too many motorists would live 520 and drive on surface streets to avoid the tolls, worsening traffic in neighborhoods before the bridge and resulting in overall lower toll revenues. The decision is now in the hands of the state legislature.

In related news, the feds say it’s okay to toll I-90 to help pay for the new 520 bridge. The majority of people who do not live in Bellevue, Newcastle or Mercer Island support tolling both bridges.

12 Replies to “520 Tolls”

  1. I don’t see how people reading this report come to the conclusion it recommends only tolling 520. In fact it points out that only one 520 only plan even has a chance at meeting the funding requirement at the lowest allowable level and addresses none of the concerns about “spill over” traffic. To my mind that’s a pretty damning report on the 520 only idea. The report doesn’t actual choose a preferred alternative but presents concerns voiced during the public comment phase and lays out 10 different scenarios. Option 10, the one studied in greatest detail meets the budget requirement set by the state and addresses the concerns of all involved (except for the no tolls on any road ever no way no how group which is a very small minority).

    10. Full bridge toll on 520; HOT lanes on I-90—In this
    scenario, 520 would be tolled starting in 2010. To
    provide a congestion relief benefi t to those using
    I-90, a HOT (high-occupancy toll) lane system could
    be implemented on I-90. This scenario continues to
    provide a free travel alternative in the I-90 corridor
    and meets the intent of the multi-jurisdiction
    Memorandum of Agreement regarding the corridor.
    The Memorandum of Agreement is available in
    Appendix H.

    1. I think you misread. They recommend tolling only the 520 bridge and not the highway on either side.

      1. OK, fair enough there won’t be a separate toll say for the portage bay bridge. Mitigating the “spill over” effect from tolling was a major concern and any tolling on the approach roads would acutely increase this problem. Not only would you get heavy traffic through Montlake and Kirkland neighborhoods but I think congestion overall thorugh the corridor would be worse because of choke points at the final merge points before the bridge. The HOT lanes work down on 167 because it’s sort of a pay as you go limited access highway. Pretty much if you’re on 520 west of 405 or east of I-5 you’re headed for the bridge so that seems like the logical place to toll. I can see where the HOT lane concept could be put to good use on I-405 or I-5 (go Hot Expresso Lanes)but that would require another special application to the Feds and it wouldn’t be money that could be used to fund the 520 bridge replacement so that’s a completely separate issue from tolls on the bridge.

  2. They should toll both bridges with variable tolling. Don’t complicate this. Spend the money on maintenance, repair and replacement of the bridges and if there is money left over spend it on nearby street repair and capital funding for nearby mass transit projects.

  3. Both bridges should be tolled. Since the tolling began on the Narrows Bridge, things have been running fairly smoothly. Of course those who use it don’t have other options. People will still pay for the convenience. However, living in Pierce County I am biased for tolling all new highway projects in Seattle. Personally I am fairly peeved that money for a new Nally Valley viaduct and HOV lanes from the county border to the Tacoma Mall that was approved in the Nickel package in 2003 is now going to build a 99 tunnel and new 520 bridge.

  4. If we skip the lids we could save almost all the money raised by tolling, how about a post on that?

    1. The entire project is a no-go without the lids. The neighborhoods on either end would tie the entire project up in litigation for the next 30 years without lids.

  5. lavarock,
    This may be a chance to get “your” money back. The issue I have with pre-tolling is that there’s really nothing that guarantees money collected from tolls will be set aside for SR520. 520 “Bridge money” has been used to prop up the funding figures for East LINK. What ever money the State takes in isn’t really committed until it’s spent. I support the idea for tolling the bridges but more because of traffic management and as a user fee. However, that would never sell politically so the party line is the money will be used to fast track the bridge replacement.

    Yeah, somehow lids in Montlake and soon one for Hunts Point all get rolled into “bridge replacement”. The amount of work that is included for shoreline redevelopment, the arboritum and various schemes for a Union Bay Bridge or second Montlake Bridge are also all lumped in and the State passed a bill saying nothing can be built until the final plans and funding for the entire corridor are in place. In concept or in a perfect world that might be a good idea. The reality is there are many parts that could (should?) be done in phases. Of course if the lids are brought up separately the only group that’s going to believe the State should cough up the $2 billion are the neighborhood residents. I live less than a mile from the 405/520 interchange. I think that should have a lid and be made into a park too.

    1. I would imagine tolls would be done like they are done for any other bridge project. In other words the toll money would be dedicated to paying off the bonds issued in order to finance the bridge. I don’t think there are any plans to use the tolls for anything other than financing the bridge and related structures at this time.

      Besides even with tolls, the tolls don’t nearly cover the estimated cost of the project.

      The various mitigation measures are required to appease the neighborhoods on either end so the state doesn’t well funded, well organized, and very determined litigation against the project. Remember I-90 or the R.H. Thompson? It took 25 years of lawsuits before construction could start on finishing I-90. Litigation lead to the cancellation of the R.H. Thompson.

  6. WSDOT should toll all limited access highways in the central Puget Sound region (e.g., I-5, I-90, I-405, SR-520, SR-509, SR-167, SR-99) as quickly as the Legislature allows them. WSDOT should variable tolls set to optimize flow. Congestion is bad for everyone on all modes. WSDOT should toll all segments of SR-520, not just the bridge. The jurisdictions concerned about diversion are somewhat mistaken, as traffic already diverts away from the congestion and poor reliability on SR-520. Traffic throughput would INCREASE with flow optimizing tolls; diversion could go DOWN, not increase. The tolling study showed SR-520 flow was faster with tolling. SR-522 is near capacity; little traffic would divert to it, as it is not attractive for most SR-520 trips. The diversion would be to other modes and other times of the day. In the long term, households and firms may relocate for better jobs-housing balance. WSDOT needs the revenue for construction of the new SR-520 and maintenance of all the highways. I-5 in Seattle needs more than $2B. They have no other revenue source on the horizon.

    All segments of SR-520 should be tolled. The project would spend plenty off the new bridge: wider highway on land; center access at 108th Avenue NE, lids at Evergreen and Yarrow points, a much wider viaduct over Portage Bay, and a connection with the I-5 reversible lanes.

    Transportation has market failure due the failure to price. We price lane space as the Soviets priced bread and queues result. It is no surprise. In Econ 101 we learned about the tradegy of the commons; congestion is that. The public is used to variable pricing; they face in all other markets. Transportation is the constipated exception.

    The limited access highways could be like the water and electric utilities. We all pay variable rates for water and power though the dams and transmission lines and pipes have been paid for as have our highways. The rates go for maintenance and system expansion. Highways tolls could do the same. Higher rates at peak times dampen demand. Investing in insulation and better windows has been part of the mission of electrical utilities since the 1970s and WPPSS. Using toll revenue to improve the frequency of bus service is parallel. It also helps answer the equity concern of tolling; the poor would have improved transit service as an alternative to paying the tolls.

    1. Wow, on some levels I tend to agree. The tolling, given that it’s electronic and doesn’t in it’s self slow traffic is a great way to control traffic flows and raise revenue. If done right it can be equitable.

      I think the sticky point is how do you define limited access. A bridge across Puget Sound or Lake Washington qualifies. Approaches to the bridge I’m not so sure. From the purely capitalist sense shouldn’t the little bergs like Medina be allowed to charge tolls on the roads through there city? Limited access would imply no alternative. True, congestion on these routes would be an incentive for many people to pay the tolls on say 520 but only when the traffic through residential neighborhoods was unbearable. People who value their time would certainly pay the tolls and see faster travel times but I think basic economics tells us that overall the more you increase the cost that given a choice more people are going to be willing to wait meaning less throughput and more idling engines burning gas.

      I question many of the things you mention as possible projects for which the tolling revenue would be used for. Wider highways are one of the things that are trying to be minimized with the SR520 “do over”. Lids are nice but expensive and should perhaps be placed in the Parks Dept. column rather than the DOT. If it were would the Parks Dept preferred use of funds for lids or some other use?

      The study you refer to showed SR520 flows better with tolling but the only options they considered were tolling just the bridge. Tolling the approaches wasn’t politically viable. It would be interesting to see a study that examined throughput tolling the approaches but I’m not sure it would be worth the cost given that it’s got no reasonable chance of happening. Even if it did I really think that as is stands today it would end up in more gas being burned to offset tolls being charged.

      Limited access highways are nothing like water and electricity. That would be like saying you get in your car and the only place it goes are Grand Coulee Dam or Ross Lake Reservoir. We have lots of choices on the route we drive. We have no choice over where our power and water come from. OK, you can run a generator for power but few people have the option of drilling their own well and it’s hard to shower with bottled water.

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