Five new Tim Eyman initiatives were filed with the state this month, including one (PDF) which would drastically limit the uses of toll revenue and the way tolls are imposed.
Section 40 (commonly referred to as the 18th Amendment) of the Washington State Constitution has limited the use of fuel excise taxes to highway construction, operation and maintenance since 1944. Eyman’s initiative would limit toll revenue to the same purposes – in fact, even more stringently, to only construction and capital improvements of the highway, bridge, or street on which the toll is collected.
It would also remove the state’s ability to impose variable tolls, and require that tolling end once construction of a structure is paid off – today’s law allows tolling to continue for operations and maintenance, as well as performance management. This would eliminate congestion pricing, HOT lanes, and even simply higher rush-hour tolls.
A final section specifically changes language regarding tolling on Interstate 90. Current law directs WSDOT to work with the federal highway administration toward authorization of tolling on the I-90 bridge – revenue expected to help fund 520 bridge replacement, and to prevent I-90 from becoming even more of a parking lot when 520 is tolled this year. The initiative would specifically (and perhaps redundantly) restrict I-90 toll revenue to capital improvements on I-90.
It’s worth mentioning that this final section could amount to nothing but a shell game – I speculate that toll revenue on I-90 could, with legislative action, replace gas tax revenue used for projects elsewhere in the corridor, and an equivalent in gas taxes could be moved to 520.
With a transportation package on the table in Olympia this session or next, the rest of the initiative could have major implications. Tolling has been increasingly under consideration as an option for congestion reduction, and as a potential revenue source for transit improvements. Without it, the options for transit in the legislature would look even more slim than they already do.