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A transportation layaway plan

520

The line of battle between Seattle and the Eastside. Credit: WSDOT

Talk about audacity. Gov. Chris Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims, Mayor Greg Nickels, and others last week stood together to embrace a somewhat expected though still-startling idea: tolling on the 520 bridge.

The gov says we need tolling on the crumbling old bridge to start banking bucks to pay for a new bridge. Tolling would provide about half of the $4 billion replacement cost.

The Washington State Department of Transportation calls this “Pre-Completion Tolling.” I call it a Transportation Layaway Plan.

In the context of finances, it makes sense. By paying now, we bank enough money to avoid exorbitant tolls later.

For months now, we’ve been hearing from my colleague, Knute Berger, and others that tolls are coming – a kind of a back to the future for 520, since tolls paid for the original bridge.

And yet several aspects of the gov’s proposal seem remarkable:

  • This plan is all about paying for a new 520, but tolling would likely be imposed on both 520 and the Interstate 90 bridge. Otherwise, a big share of 520 traffic would shift to I-90, worsening congestion there.
  • Tolling would begin as soon as next year. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but how does $5 to $10 per roundtrip during rush hours feel?
  • I doubt the public has paid much attention to planners’ talk about “congestion pricing,” which is proposed in the new plan. Environmentalists support the concept as a means of “encouraging” the use of public transit and of reducing auto pollution. But what’s the answer to the construction worker in the pickup truck who starts to believe he’s been priced off a public road?
  • Another aspect of a layaway plan is you have reason to expect the seller to make good on his side of the deal. The seller delivers the whole enchilada. But to put it mildly, “on time, on budget” has not been a hallmark of our transportation planning.
  • This new “aggressive” approach? Patience, please. The new bridge would not open till 2018.

As for the Alaskan Way Viaduct? Well, that used to be the most urgent need. We’re still waiting for that press conference.

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