This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

As readers of this blog probably know, starting next year, WSDOT will begin collecting tolls on the SR-520 floating bridge to start to collect money for the eventual rebuild.

I personally believe this is something of a sleeper issue in the region. I’m not sure how many commuters have fully internalized this fact, and I’m anticipating a bit of a public sh*tstorm as people slowly realize that this is going to affect them. I’m happy to be wrong on that! Just my gut feeling. [Personally, of course, I support the tolls.]

Be that as it may, tolling will reshape our regional landscape in ways we haven’t yet anticipated. As it is, the lake creates a psychological barrier that makes everything seem further away than it really is. Bellevue is about as far away from downtown Seattle as Ballard as the crow flies, yet Bellevue seems much farther. Tolls on the bridges will increase this sense of distance, by adding another barrier to crossing the lake.*

In what other ways might tolls affect the region? Seattle Bubble speculates about whether it will change real estate patterns, as people seek to move closer to their employers:

What if we make a more extreme assumption about the cost of tolling to a daily exurban freeway commuter? Let’s say the new everywhere tolls add $20 a day to their commute costs. That’s about $400 a month, which is approximately equivilent to $80,000 in purchase power at 5% interest. Now we’re talking. That’s more than the difference between the median prices of Marysville and Shoreline.

Meanwhile, the Prosperity Partnership sees the potential for a flourishing Eastside arts movement, as Eastsiders balk at driving to Seattle for culture:

…because there isn’t a fully vital arts community yet on the eastside, economic theory would tell us that folks would be willing to invest in the short term to build that infrastructure if it saves them money in the long term.

Interesting! Only time will tell, as they say, but I’d wager that we’re in for a big change. I wouldn’t be surprised to see new talk of splitting up King County in two, an idea that has resurfaced from time to time.

*Of course, bus commuters won’t be affected by the tolls directly, except in the sense that the buses will become more reliable as traffic abates.

3 Replies to “The Socioeconomic Implications of Tolling the Bridges”

  1. The funny thing is, there are higher costs involved in this crossing right now, but it’s the type of costs that people don’t pay as much attention to. This includes the cost of parking, fuel, car repair, replacement car value, the occasional accident, and the high cost of wasted time (especially when we’re talking about rush hour on 520).

    Will people value this time savings as much as the few dollars they’ll pay in tolls? Probably not, which is irrational but seems to be built into human nature.

    I think tolls have a great capacity to change our region quite a bit for the same reason people won’t pay for online content. It’s painful to have to pull out your wallet and pay for something that used to be “free”.

  2. Keep in mind that tolls are one possible way to pay for all roads soon, to make up for higher fuel efficiency if VMT does not decrease. It also makes sense to toll not only the highways themselves, but also the feeder arterials which used by pre-highway traffic. This could actually work fairly well if it’s integrated, and ideally could offset other taxes. Maybe the tolls could just be tallied onto the same bill as property taxes or utility bills.

    In other news,

    Charles Komanoff figured out the ideal tolls for NYC: “$3 to cars entering the CBD on weekday nights, $6 for most of the day, and $9 during rush hour. The subway fare also varies, but is always less than the $2.25 it is today: $1 at night, rising to $1.50 as day breaks, and peaking at $2 during weekday rush hours. Buses are always free, because the time saved when passengers aren’t fumbling for change more than makes up for the lost fare revenue.”

Comments are closed.