Photo by Joshua Putnam

Though we’ve agreed that it’s premature to make any kind of definitive conclusion on long-term travel trends post-tolling, one thing is clear– I-90 has begun to adopt 520’s notorious congestion, something that was, of course, to be expected.  However, with the R8A Two-Way Transit & HOV project still incomplete and both directions on I-90 competing for the peak, 520 defectors have worsened an already fragile situation.

My bus, for example, has been slowed three times in the PM peak direction express lanes for the first time in recent memory.  While the delay only adds up to a couple of minutes for me, the real losers are those using transit in the reverse-peak direction: eastbound in the morning and westbound in the afternoon, which currently has a measly transit mode share simply because the incentives to drive in that direction are far too great.

Of course, tolling just one segment over Lake Washington ignores the fact that both bridge corridors should be considered as part of a cross-lake system.  This is a good financial argument for the State to make, too, because there won’t be enough toll revenue from 520 alone to finance the entirety of the bridge replacement.  Though currently prohibited by State law, tolling I-90 to offset the funding shortfall can be allowed under an exemption granted by the Legislature.

The discussion around I-90 tolls hasn’t only been constrained to politicians, planners, and transit bloggers.  Shortly after the 520 tolls commenced, an anonymous citizen started a Toll I-90 effort with an advocacy webpage and even merchandise to boot.  Whether or not the State can muster up the political will to follow through, however, is a much different story.

90 Replies to “The Case for Tolling I-90”

  1. Keep in mind that the I-90 Transit and HOV projects stage 3 hasn’t started yet. That will ultimately add an HOV lane all the way to Rainier. That will almost certainly benefit bus riders and peak our travellers.

    But tolling will probably begin sooner or later. I-90 will have to be replaced at some point. That could be made as an argument for tolling.

    To me though, the gas tax is still my preferred funding method.

    1. The biggest hurdle the gas tax has now is that any increase will likely go to a statewide vote, thanks to 1053.

  2. What I would suggest is that all the exits leading off to downtown Seattle be tolled.

    This would tax the people who choose not to commute on the rich transit network across the bridge, using an Eastside Park and Ride.

    While at the same time, for a person trying to get from Issaquah to Tukwila, say, where ease of transit is much less, is not unduly penalized.

      1. Its the same idea as cordon tolling. Rather than charging to use some segment of the road network you change for entering a specific area.

      2. Skymeter

        Skymeter takes the complexity out of charging drivers. You no longer need to be a technology expert to measure vehicle use; no more infrastructure, massive databases or complex systems required.

        Skymeter’s metering-as-a-service turns driving into a stream of financial transactions, set according to your charging scheme. The firm handles and keeps the data required to validate and collect on the financial transaction. Using Skymeter is almost as easy as taking Mastercard.

  3. I-90 HOV is still 2 people right? Until tolling can be approved, upping that to 3 might be wise. Or even consider transit-only lanes.

      1. That’s how to skip half the traffic if you’re driving. Get off on Island Crest way, take a right (or a left depending on time of day) and get right back on towarrd bellevue.

  4. Well, I guess I may have finally come over to the side that tolling needs to be mandatory across all roads. If we’re gonna toll I-90, then people will ultimately drive around, again, like they did when 520 tolling started.

    1. So, toll all roads, and we’re back to the same congestion on both roads that we started with?

      1. Nope. Increasing the cost to drive adds incentive to find some other way of doing business. Getting your son’s haircut on the side you live on. Riding a bus to work. Long term, moving close to work.

  5. It was manipulative and cynical of the legislature and WS-DOT to toll the 520 bridge without considering the impact on I-90. The roads are close enough to one another that many travelers could use either bridge reasonably efficiently. It was entirely foreseeable that I-90 would become completely congested once tolling started on 520. Note that even the “off peak tolls” such as $2.25 mid-day weekdays and $2.20 weekend afternoons still work out to $4.40-4.50 round trip for Good-to-Go users, which is substantially more than the Tacoma Narrows ($2.75 Good to Go price for a round trip.) Enough drivers either don’t perceive the marginal operating cost or have distances that are sufficiently similar that I-90 is a rational choice.

    I think the legislature and WS-DOT didn’t want to take the public heat of telling the community that they were going to toll both bridges, so they set up a system that is an extremely poor outcome – 520 is underutilized and probably won’t raise the amount of money that was project – and I-90 is congested much of the day. The outcome was completely predictable, and I’m sure understood by many. Yet they put that plan in place anyway because they didn’t want to take the heat of telling people that both bridges need to be tolled for the system to work reasonably.

    It’s the same gutlessness that won’t consider raising the gas tax to maintain the existing roads.

    And after moving all the Bellevue-Seattle buses onto I-90, they did not provide reliable transit roadway either.

    It is absolutely a failure of leadership by our elected officials and WS-DOT.

    1. WSDOT did consider the effect of tolling 520 on I-90, and SR-522 for thst matter. If you read the tolling report you can see all the estimated effects for a variety of tolling scenarios.

      1. I’ve been hounding this for a while. The State basically played the game of suck ’em in with low low introductory rates and then jack it through the roof once there’s no backing out. Funny though how the daily commuters who moved out to Gig Harbor because of cheap land are the ones having a tizzy fit. The second bridge wouldn’t have been necessary if zoning and the GMA had any teeth. Meanwhile DT Tacoma sinks slowly into the tide flats. So far the only charges I’ve racked up on my G2G pass have been on the Narrows Bridge. Happy to pay it vs the alternative of Edmonds/Kingston ferry fare.

      2. The second bridge wasn’t necessary even without tolls on the first one. But yes that certainly would have helped the situation. Somewhat like the new 520 has been declared “light rail ready” (at a cost of several hundred million dollars) the Narrows (the one that’s there, not galloping Gertie) was designed to accommodate a second deck. The reason the State didn’t do that was because it was deemed unacceptable to close the bridge during hours that construction would take place. OK, fine. But after opening the second bridge with 50% more lane capacity it was stupid to not close the first bridge and get it done. No, just wait 50 years until we’re in another pickle. Just another plug, if we’d coughed up the extra $60 million to build a real bridge across the 520 span back in the early 60’s we wouldn’t be spending a billion dollars now to replace it. Pontoon bridges have proven to be the most expensive option in the world. Probably why for the most part we only have them here.

  6. Well if the timimg board on I-90 Westbound at 7:30am was right the time to drive either bridge to Seattle was almost the same. In which case the burden of the extra traffic going Westbound on I-90 is a non starter.

    Adding 3 minutes to a Eastbound ride hardly seems to warrant any sympathy from me. You can waste that much time at the coffee machine making a pot if it just ran out.

    I will also note that the bike lanes have been wide open all week. You could lose 13 lbs (the average) by switching to a bicycle for your commute and save the $5 round trip daily bus fare.

    1. Well if the timimg board on I-90 Westbound at 7:30am was right the time to drive either bridge to Seattle was almost the same. In which case the burden of the extra traffic going Westbound on I-90 is a non starter.

      I dispute that assertion. I’ve commuted daily past the sign at Eastgate for almost six years and the time to Seattle via SR 520 has almost never been equal to I-90. I admit that I haven’t been paying attention during my commutes over the last couple weeks, but if it’s true that detouring north through Bellevue, over 520 and back south into downtown is now the same as the nearly-straight route across 90, then it’s pretty obvious that congestion on 90 is much worse than prior to implementation of tolling.

      1. You are miss-reading the data. The time quoted is not to a single point in Seattle, but to the edge of the city limits. Thus driving over 520 gets you to the Seattle by Montlake, vs driving over I-90 at Mt. Baker.

        You still have to factor in the drive through the city.

        And yes in the past it was always faster to go over I-90, but now with tolling we’ve removed what, 40,000 trips? from that bridge and they aren’t all on I-90, or it would be like it was this morning, backed up 5 miles due to a stalled car.

      2. “You are miss-reading the data. The time quoted is not to a single point in Seattle, but to the edge of the city limits.”

        [citation needed]

  7. I fully support tolling of both Lake Washington bridges. Having said that, I grew up in New York and am accustomed to paying tolls for road use for whenever I traveled on the Thruway or entered NYC from one of the myriad bridges or tunnels. To me, it’s not a big deal, and I don’t mind paying a toll if it minimizes my driving time.

    An interesting issue should 90 be tolled: What about Mercer Island? There are over 22,000 people for whom the bridge is quite literally a lifeline to the mainland, so to speak. What kind of uproar would those residents create if they were forced to pay a toll to travel to and from their homes, access to which heretofore had been free of charge?

    1. Mercer Island is easily adddressed by just tolling the western bridges and not the East Channel Bridge. They’ve gotten a free ride in the express lanes, I don’t have much sympathy.

      Besides, most of them can well afford the toll.

    2. Well, I seem to remember an argument (when the cost of ferries was being discussed here) that living on an island was simply a lifestyle choice, and that people who choose to live on an island should have to pay the costs that are involved.

      While I don’t mind moderate ferry tolls or bridge tolls, I don’t think that in either case the people who live on the island should have to pay the entire cost of providing the ferry or the bridge service.

      OK, one of my big issues is ferries in general. But it does greatly amuse me that some people who think it reasonable to charge the full cost of a ferry to San Juan Island or Bainbridge Island, would turn around and be aghast at the thought of the residents of Mercer Island paying for a substantial percentage of the cost of their “ferry”.

      Can’t have it both ways.

      1. *eyes opening wide* Aaaahhhh…an argument that I’ve not heard of and that makes perfect sense. People seem to forget that Mercer Island actually IS an island that is accessible only by the two bridges. Makes me remember people years ago saying that a bridge(or tunnel?) should have been built to Bainbridge Island and therefore we wouldn’t need the ferries anymore. It builds up my talking points to people who say “since I don’t use it, why should I pay for it?” Hey, I don’t use Interstate 82 to Yakima, or Highway 97, but yet I still paid for it. I don’t use I-405 in Renton/Tukwila but yet, I’ve paid for those multiple versions of interchanges over the past 25 years. How many times are they going to remodel those interchanges in Renton, anyway? Yet, here in Seattle, NOTHING has been built since I moved here in 1981. OK, I forgot about the completion of the I90/I5 interchange back in the late 80s. Interstate 5 is basically the same as it was back then. Hwy 99 is finally getting some attention and so is the Mercer Mess…

      2. Ah, there is a bridge to Bainbridge Island (and the State has tried to build a bridge to Vashon over Colvos Passage but the residents, including a fair number of Hollywood muckity mucks, have shot it down). MI residents have long had a free pass to use the HOV lanes even if they are a SOV. Tolling the floating bridge still allows them free access off the island via the East Channel. And let’s not forget the freeway lid on MI that had zero local contribution.

  8. I think tolling I-90, which is a good idea, would both get a lot more political support and improve travel times if first use of toll revenue was accelerated construction of two-way bus lanes and ramps across the lake.

    Wonder what would be involved in putting present HOV lanes to two-way operation until it’s time to start laying rail? Hardest argument to counter when I’m arguing for regional light-rail is objection to 20 years’ continued stuck buses ’til rail builds out.

    After an hour-long crawl from Lynnwood Transit Center to Stewart and 9th aboard the 511, I’d vote to toll I-5 if proceeds could go for that 50-years’ overdue southbound PM transit lane.

    Mark Dublin

    1. And PS, John:

      Great idea on tolling Seattle itself. Now that it takes fifteen minutes to get from the Ballard Locks to the Majestic Bay Theater in the Ballard CBD, probably good idea to add a Ballard surcharge.

      Judging by current trends, best way for Ballard to gain the prestige long denied to us is to become a Gated Community!

      Mark Dublin

    2. The ramp configuration and barrier setup on Mercer Island is a huge obstacle. Due to R8A Phase 2 construction, the center roadway is pretty narrow between 80th Ave SE and Shorewood Dr SE, so you’d have to build access from the center roadway to the existing HOV lanes at 80th, but this requires demolishing and then building a bunch of barriers to shift traffic, all while avoiding the existing Island Crest Way on/off-ramps. Those ramps are between 77th and 80th (and the support columns for those overpasses/lids are huge), and since the HOV lanes start/end at 80th I’m not sure there would be space to build safe transitions while not getting mixed up with the ramps.

      The other major issue that I recall from the analysis that led to R8A being selected as the preferred alternative is that the center roadway is pretty narrow overall. If you install a center barrier (virtually required by highway design standards), you wouldn’t have a shoulder worth mentioning so if someone breaks down/gets in a collision then you’ve blocked the lane completely, and emergency responders would have difficulty getting to the blockage.

      Short version, I don’t think it would be worth the trouble and expense, and I’d rather they adopt your first idea to build Phase 3 of R8A sooner. (I’d love it if we could accelerate East Link too, but that’s a different story.)

  9. Seeing as how 15% of the 520 bridge consists of bike and pedestrian lanes, it stands to reason that they should share the burden through tolls and a new bicycle license fee. I suggest $75 a year per bicycle, with an exemption for anyone elementary or secondary school.

      1. Kind of hard to license walkers, so maybe you have a bridge toll of, say $3 for bicycles and $5 for pedestrians.

    1. A “floating” bridge has to displace water equal to the weight it’s supporting. The amount of concrete is proportional to that load. A Semi weighs 80,000 pounds a bike and rider weighs 200 pounds. What are the structural parameters that you used to come up with the statistic that bike/ped access are adding 15% to the cost? And keep in mind that the structural design parameter for the “bike” path is that it be able to support occasional use by ambulances and emergency vehicles. Scaling your $75 license tab I come up with a more reasonable figure of 19 cents. The cost of collecting a 19 cent bicycle license???

      1. I’m talking about the new bridge, not the current bridge. The new bridge will be 116 feet wide. 14 feet, or 12%, will be allocated to peds and cyclists. Therefore, they should be paying 12%. (I originally wrote 15%, but that was off the top of my head, so in response to your question I went to the WSDOT site to get the exact numbers.)

        The project will cost $4.65 billion. Bicyclists and pedestrian users should pay 12% of the cost, or $558 million. But maybe you think bicyclists and pedestrians are special and superior, and should have a free ride? That seems to be what a certain segment of people in Seattle think, myself not being one of them.

      2. You don’t pay for concrete by the square foot. It’s stupid to try and allot cost that way.

      3. So Bernie, it sounds like you’re one of those who want to tax the drivers so those who you regard as “superior” can get a free ride. By the way, I also think that bus fares across the bridge should go up, to reflect that it’s a toll bridge. Would I be correct in guessing that you’d oppose that too? It’s all about the freebies, isn’t it?

      4. “maybe you think bicyclists and pedestrians are special and superior, and should have a free ride?”

        They are.

      5. The bike and pedestrian access is essentially a freebie. The design load is for emergency vehicles so it so overbuilt the bike and pedestrian wear factor is essentially zero. Bikes and walk-on passengers way overpay for the marginal cost imposed on WSFs so if it makes you feel better think of that as their contribution to the State funds allocated to the 520 corridor. Of course there’s still the $2.2 billion unfunded need that’s going to come from somewhere; most likely the general fund since highway sources are tapped out.

        The toll rates were set to meet a revenue goal. That’s why traffic is screwed up. Go back and read the tolling studies and then come back with a proposal that makes sense.

        As for transit it’s true that buses cause a lot of wear on the highways and even with peak or 2 zone fares the money collected doesn’t come close to even covering the operating cost. All I can say is that your commute would be worse if thousands more people were all competing for lane space in their own cars and the cost of the 520 project would be on the order of a billion dollars more if they had to add additional lanes in each direction. That’s about 7 million hours of bus service or 400 hours a day for 50 years.

      6. SC: The “Driver’s pay more than their fair share” argument is really tired and old. Once all those cars get onto the local streets of *any* municipality on either side of the bridge, they are using roads paid for by property taxes. In those areas automobile drivers enjoy a subsidy from those who don’t own cars or use theirs very sparingly but pay property taxes (either directly or indirectly).

        Even if the 520 bridge was entirely paid for by user fees and taxes, which it’s not, you can easily argue that drivers paying for the bike lane on 520 is a bit of payback. Don’t forget to add in all the “free” parking out there and money spent dealing with stormwater runoff from roads polluted by, you guessed it, all those cars.

      7. Once all those cars get onto the local streets of *any* municipality on either side of the bridge, they are using roads paid for by property taxes. In those areas automobile drivers enjoy a subsidy from those who don’t own cars or use theirs very sparingly but pay property taxes (either directly or indirectly).

        Those same city streets are used by bicyclists and pedestrians, but only motor vehicle owners pay extra fees on top of property taxes. Neither pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, or bicycles do much damage to streets; the real wear and tear comes from trucks and city buses.

        Trucks pay substantial license fees, but riders of city buses are subsidized, so you can argue that transit riders do the most uncompensated damage to the streets, while kicking back nothing to help repair the damage they cause to them.

        But those are academic questions, really. The crux of the matter is illustrated by Zed, who like a certain contingent in Seattle, thinks that pedestrians and bicyclists are superior to those who drive motor vehicles. It’s the superiority, and the tendency of politicians to cater to it, that’s responsible for the free-riding by pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users.

        The problem with this is that, eventually, there’s a reaction. It’s why the current mayor, who is prominently and accurately identified as intensely anti-automobile, is the most unpopular local politician in decades; it is why the recent Seattle Proposition 1 was defeated by a nearly 2-to-1 margin; and it is why motorists believe (accurately, I think, minus the hypoerbole) to be the target of a “war on cars.”

        The transit and bicycling “communities,” especially, need to be thinking about the growing resentment they have triggered by claims of moral superiority coupled with absolute refusal to pay their way, even in a token manner.

      8. The bike and pedestrian access is essentially a freebie. The design load is for emergency vehicles so it so overbuilt the bike and pedestrian wear factor is essentially zero.

        That’s not true. If the bike/pedestrian lane was eliminated, the bridge would be lighter, narrower, and cheaper.

      9. “I’m talking about the new bridge, not the current bridge.”

        What made you think he was talking about the current bridge, which doesn’t have any bike/ped facilities at all?

      10. It’s a 14′ cantilevered sidewalk. There’s 28′ of shoulder! It adds ~2,000 tons of concrete to the project. Just to construct the pontoon casting basin floor they poured over 200,000 tons. There’s going to be 280,000 tons in the pontoons before you even get to the actual roadway structure; ~400,000 tons based on the amount of buoyancy the pontoons provide. In absolute terms yes it adds about $80,000 which is about double the cost per mile of a bike path on dry land. In relative terms it’s less than a hundredth of 1% of the cost of the bridge.

      11. Great to know that 12% of the bridge costs only 80 grand. That must mean the whole thing costs (hold on, let me get the calulator) $667,000. I took the liberty of rounding up. Hope you don’t mind.

        After all, the cost of a bridge is nothing but the cost of the concrete on the deck. There’s no rebar, and the bike/ped portion is self-constructing and self-floating and self-designing.

        Or maybe you have long since decided, just like Zed, who was at least candid about it, that bicyclists and pedestrians and mass transit users are superior, and for that reason should pay nothing. This is pretty much the attitude I see here, and in like-minded circles in the Puget Sound.

        Maybe you will wind up getting away with it. Or maybe there’ll be enough resentment among drivers that they strike back through the political process and demand that all the stakeholders put skin in the game, and that no one is better than anyone else.

      12. Bernie, your “calculation” is aggressively dishonest. In the end, either the legislature or the voters directly will correct all of this.

      13. Claiming 14′ of sidewalk is 15% of the cost of the bridge is intellectually honest? Zed was being facetious but you’re making a good case for it being true. No comprehension of how the toll rates were set and a belief that tooth fairy technology will come to our rescue.

        either the legislature or the voters directly will correct all of this.

        Yeah, both have done really well so far; a couple billion unfunded between 520 and the DBT. The nickle tax on bikes and an excise tax on shoes will fill the gap. It’s those damn free loaders that aren’t paying for peak capacity mega projects that are the problem.

      14. I don’t think Zed was being facetious at all. I think he was being candid, and reflecting a strain of opinion common on the Seattle Transit Blog, and elsewhere in the Seattle area. The bike/ped lane is 12% of the bridge, and you want to give cyclists and walkers an absolutely free ride. This attitude is sadly typical of a segment of people here.

      15. “Neither pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, or bicycles do much damage to streets”

        So all that repaving that we do in my neighborhood on streets used primarily by cars is because of the garbage, yard waste, and recycling trucks that come through 2 times a week? Oh, maybe it’s the occasional truck making a delivery from Home Depot? Uh huh… Yeah, riiiiiiight.

      16. “As for transit it’s true that buses cause a lot of wear on the highways and even with peak or 2 zone fares the money collected doesn’t come close to even covering the operating cost”

        It depends on the route, for sure, but I’d bet even money that the packed 545s, 255s, 212s, and 550s do actually get pretty close to paying for their *operating* costs. Last I heard bus service costs $124 per hour to deliver, all costs included. If you assume Metro receives $2 per customer from the various passes, a number I believe is roughly accurate, you’re getting in the ballpark on the shorter routes, even with deadheading.

        Not trying to pick a fight and I suspect it depends on what you mean by “come close’ and also whether my assumption of $2 per passenger is correct.

      17. Well, overall it’s what about a $7 subsidy per rider for ST Express? The 550 is probably ST’s best performing route because of bidirectional demand (likewise the 255 for Metro east sub area) but other than peak those giant artics are maybe half full at best and the 255 turns into a milk run north of S. Kirkland P&R. I think from the performance reports there are only a 2-3 Seattle routes that achieve close to 100% fare recovery.

      18. If you assume Metro receives $2 per customer from the various passes

        I suspect that is diluted substantially by transfers. But without ORCA data the fare allotment is more of a lottery.

      1. If you went that way and penciled out the numbers, taking into account the willingness to pay of drivers, walkers and bikers and matching it to the infrastructure cost, I’d predict that the 520 bridge plans would get crumpled up and the new floating bridge would be a bike-passenger ferry from Kirkland to South Lake Union. Maybe with an extra service branching down to Meydenbauer Bay.

      2. Not sure about that. After all, a bunch of the cost comes from gas tax money, so the drivers are already kicking in. Tolls are simply too high. If they want to maximize revenues rather than pursue some other agenda, they’d cut the $3.50 to $2 right away, and everything would be fine on the driver front.

        But we’d still need to find ways to insure that all of the stakeholders have skin in the game. Bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders should be paying tolls to use that bridge, right along with the drivers.

      3. I’m sick and tired of this “us against them” argument – bicyclists, drivers, and transit riders are ultimately the same people.

      4. So am I. All stakeholders should be paying. No one should be regarded as superior and exempt. Bicycling, transit riding, and walking should be taxed at the same rates as driving.

      5. Sure, Seattle Citizen — and because bridge construction is determined by design weight, they should pay the same rate per *pound*.

        So, a heavy pedestrian would be paying about 1/10 the toll of a light car.

      6. If there were only bikes and peds, the streets would only need to be a fifth the width, and they’d last five times longer before resurfacing. They’d be a lot cheaper to build too.

    2. When someone bikes or walks instead of driving, it helps the drivers because there are fewer cars on the road. Really, we want to incent this behavior because it helps reduce traffic. It would be crazy to charge people to use alternatives to cars.

      1. If we spend an extra 12% to accommodate cycling and walking, those activities should be taxed to finance the extra costs. And if car drivers are to be taxed extra for the bridge, transit riders should be too. To do otherwise is to separate the public into warring tribes.

      2. If we did but we don’t. Of the $7 billion WSDOT budget for the 2011-13 biennium.

        The 2011-13 transportation budget maintains forward momentum on mega projects and projects of regional significance, such as:

        Tacoma I-5 High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) project
        State Route (SR) 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement
        SR 520 Bridge Replacement
        I-90/Snoqualmie Pass
        I-405 Corridor Projects
        SR 395 North Spokane Corridor
        I-5/Columbia River Crossing Project

        One shared pedestrian/bicycle path in the whole project. I know a lot of cyclists. I’m trying to think of one that doesn’t own a car and I can’t come up with any. One commute to work on my bike and I’ve saved the tax payers the equivalent of a whole year of road wear vs commuting by car.

    3. The bike lane is 15% of the surface area of the bridge, but eliminating bike access would not entirely eliminate the need for a sidewalk — some pedestrian access route is needed for safety, even if it’s not normally open to public use.

      Now, is it anywhere close to 15% of the structure of the bridge? Or 15% of the construction cost of the bridge?

      Of course not. It’s a light-weight bridge deck cantilevered out from the main body of the bridge.

      Take a look at the bridge layout — the bicycle path is so inconsequentially light, there’s no discernable difference in the pontoons for the side with the path vs. the side without.

      According to a 2005 WSDOT estimate, the cost of the bike lane is $70-80 million, or less than 2% of the cost of the bridge project.

      1. The “bike” lane is constructed the same as the “shoulder” or “break down lane” on the other side. If you want to know why look at the future options of re-striping for “light rail”. WSDOT always wanted to rebuild SR-520 as an eight lane bridge but people threw a fit over the scale of the monstrosity. Then the “light rail ready” brigade headed by Mayor McGinn piped up and WSDOT came back with the current design which is “eight lane ready.”

      2. According to a 2005 WSDOT estimate, the cost of the bike lane is $70-80 million, or less than 2% of the cost of the bridge project.

        Your estimate is roughly 1,000 times the one given by Bernie, so perhaps you can forgive my skepticism about both of your numbers. That said, my using a percentage of the bridge width to peg the cost might not be correct either. If you have a link to support your claim of $70 million to $80 million in extra cost for the bike/ped lane, I’d be interested in seeing it.

        I’d want to know whether that figure includes allocated costs for every component of the bridge, i.e., construction and planning.

        Now, aside from whether it’s $70 million or $150 million or $500 million, there is the larger issue of shared contributions among stakeholders. As the owner (and user) of a car and a bicycle, and former owner and user of a motorcycle, and of course a lifelong pedestrian, I can say that I’ve only paid extra to use the motor vehicles.

        Bicyclists kick in nothing extra, nor do pedestrians. I think sidewalks are part of the city so I can’t see the logic for tolling pedestrians on the city streets, or bicycles, or cars. But if we’re going to spend extra money to accommodate peds and bicyclists on a bridge, then they should pay a toll to use the accommodation.

        The lack of shared contributions rankles those who pay extra to drive. It triggers resentment, and eventually reaction, as do the attitudes that go with it. This so-called “war on cars” wasn’t started by motorists, but eventually they take notice, and react. Or didn’t you notice what happened to Seattle’s Proposition 1, or the rock-bottom approval ratings for “Mayor McSchwinn?”

        If you want there to be a “community” here, then everyone needs to chip in. If some users are treated as “more equal” than others, you’ll see a gradual erosion in support for those perceived as free riders.

      3. The 14′ was going to be built regardless. I linked to the WSDOT future re-striping options. It’s built to support future vehicle use; that’s the $80 Million. The cost to allow bikes to use it instead of adding it to the existing 28′ of shoulder and breakdown lanes is trivial. As a bonus WSDOT has access for emergency and maintenance vehicles. In the mean time WSDOT gets to “lane bank” the pavement for the cost of another Jersey barrier. Now, if Cascade Bike Club had had their way and gotten a high level bridge built to connect to Madison Park I’d be all with you on charging tolls and licensing bicycles. That was ridiculous. I think it’s jokers like David Hiller that exude the arrogant aroma of superiority that gives Joe A. Bikerider paying their gas tax, license fee and sales tax on their cars a bad name.

    4. I’m pretty sure a bike and pedestrian only bridge (or throw in some transit capacity for fun) would have cost a lot less…and the long-term operating costs for the bike and pedestrian traffic are peanuts compared to motorized vehicles. We could try to remember that the vast majority of bicyclists already own vehicles and either rent or own property, so are paying local property taxes as well as vehicle-related taxes.

      Find me another city in the world that charges for people walking across a bridge.

      1. But you are not paying bicycle taxes. A motor vehicle operator pays everything you do, plus gas taxes, plus license tabs, and now plus tolls. It’s an outright evasion to claim that you pay as much as a motorist does. You don’t.

      2. Cry me a river. You should be paying cyclists and pedestrians for offsetting your carbon emissions.

  10. we should toll all lanes on all the limited access highways in centrl Puget Sound (e.g., I-90, I-5, I-405, SR-520, SR-509, SR-167); we should toll primarily to manage demand and keep flow at 45 mph; the tolls might be zero outside the peak on highway other than SR-520 and the Narrows; the network could be treated something like a utility. all modes would flow better. the capital projects of enforcement areas and center access ramps would be less necessary. with demand constrained, all the mega projects could be smaller. toll revenue could fund all the maintenance and rehab the state cannot afford now.

    1. It only makes sense to toll the roads that will actually turn a profit. 167 is only now approaching revenue neutral. Tolling I-90 and I-5 in Seattle makes sense.

      Extending the sales tax to gas makes sense. No other commodity except food enjoys such an exemption. The gas tax pays for roads, fine. But it’s purchase should fund basic education just as much as buying a new pair of pants.

      1. WSDOT asserts that traffic is moving faster in the GP lanes with HOT tolling. Assuming that’s actually true, then a revenue neutral solution that measurably improves traffic flow seems like a no-brainer. As of Q4 of 2011, the 167 HOT lanes turned a profit. See the latest performance report here.

  11. I disagree with the statement: “This is a good financial argument for the State to make, too, because there won’t be enough toll revenue from 520 alone to finance the entirety of the bridge replacement.” So does the tolling manager for SR-520, who said just this morning that it would be 6 months before they knew the revenue picture. She also reported that their projections of a 48% drop in traffic volume on that bridge was instead 40%. Also, with those who are willing to drive longer and slower to avoid the tolls, the state’s gas tax revenues ought to get a boost. All that being said, extending the sales tax to gas makes sense. On the other hand, transit agencies are hardly transparent in their management of our sales tax dollars. Some meet what I’d call the minimum transparency: (1) video/audio of board meetings; (2) staff reports online at least a couple days before the meetings; (3) meeting minutes online within 2 weeks of the meeting; (4) quarterly financial statements online; (5) reports on major projects, say those costing 1% or more of revenues: comparison vs. time schedule and budget, if off, why; (6) pay, benefits, and titles of those making $100,000 or more, ratio of managers to staff. To just raise their revenues without something in return is handing them a blank check.

  12. This discussion needs to get back to clarity. road tolls are a phone name for a “pole tax”. The founding fathers considered “pole tax” to be one of the great injustices of old Europe. Why,; because the rich pay nothing and the poor pay everything.


    and stop taxing parts of society critical for business activity such as roads, public transport (reminder of the very heavy poll taxes you pay at the airports). [ot]

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