Tuesday the Washington State Transportation Commission, which has toll setting authority, released it’s recommendations for SR-520 tolling. The rate vary by time of day but not dynamically like HOT lanes. This proposal has been years in the making. Two years ago the state legislature asked WSDOT to look at tolling options for the cross lake corridor. The report outlined ten tolling scenarios, five that only tolled SR-520 and five that toll both SR-520 and I-90.
More after the jump.
At the time the state legislature had a goal of raising $1.5 billion to $2 billion from toll revenue. Only one SR-520 only tolling scenario was able to get to the lower limit of the goal, while all dual bridge scenarios easily meet or surpassed the goal. In light of this and strong opposition from cities along I-90 (most notably Mercer Island) state politicians moved forward cautiously with tolls only on SR-520, but posed to reexamined tolls on I-90 if congestion significantly increased because of diversion.
The problem is the state still has a $2 billion funding gap. That money is going to have to come from somewhere, and the only places money like that can be had is through tolls on I-90, a regional revenue package of some sort, a state-wide gas tax increase, or some combination of those three. Tolls on I-90 look to be the only viable funding solution, at least for a majority of the gap.
A state-wide gas tax would have a hard time in the current anti-tax mood. Usually the Puget Sound region overpowers the rest of the state on issues like this but I have a feeling that support is too soft to overpower the rest of the state like it did 5 years ago with I-912 (Nickel Package rollback). I’m also very skeptical that a regional transportation package would pass. A package would have to enjoy strong support in Seattle which seems unlikely since ST2 has now passed. Puget Sound voters just don’t support road heavy packages enough (R-51) or simply reject them (first Prop 1).
Road packages simply can’t pass because they get attacked from on the right by conservatives who won’t support any package and on the left by liberals that swing against it. Liberals are the real swing vote and if state legislators want support they need to significantly sweeten the deal for the things Seattle voters want.