Winning a political campaign requires leveraging whatever political alliances one can forge, so I understand why Protect Seattle Now is making a big deal about $5 tolls in the deep-bore tunnel. However, one of the best things to like about the DBT is it’s being partially funded by tolls, the second-best funding source behind gas taxes.
Tolls are an excellent way to deter driving by raising its costs. They work best, of course, when all alternative driving corridors are similarly tolled, and that isn’t going to happen here. The result will be congestion, of course, but we’ll have congestion in any case; it’s a question of where the equilibrium point is.
Furthermore, congestion both deters driving and is good for pedestrians. One bizarre argument for the tunnel is that gridlock on Alaskan Way would be bad for pedestrian access to the waterfront. The opposite is true. Cars travelling at the speed limit is bad for access; a virtual parking lot means pedestrians rule. Congestion is especially harmless if a tolled, uncongested option works for people that truly have no other choice.
Put another way, if the Feds came up with $400m and obviated the tolling, that would make this a worse project. You’d just increase the long-run car capacity and have another congested roadway, and no uncongested route for users with no good alternatives to driving.
It also helps, of course, if people are given good alternatives through investment in transit, something that the DBT plan commits $0 to. And the government is going to spend about $1 billion extra in a doomed attempt to alleviate congestion, $1 billion that could fund a lot of those alternatives.