Journal of Commerce reporter Marc Stiles recently wrote a compelling story that talks about the potential tolling of all major roads in this area. Here it is:
The Puget Sound Regional Council is expected to approve a far-reaching plan this afternoon that could lead to tolling of all major roads in the metropolitan area by 2030.
Meanwhile, the Washington State Department of Transportation plans to spend another $7 million on roadway tolling consultants.
These moves show how wide spread tolling is likely to become in Washington.
Last year, WSDOT hired Electronic Transaction Consultants of Texas to operate a new statewide customer service center for toll operations. ETC will provide customer service for an electronic tolling program called Good to Go. The company also will process payments and collect money from toll scofflaws. The five-year contract is valued at approximately $23 million.
Now WSDOT is hiring teams to work together as the statewide general toll consultant. Engineers and management consultants are needed to help plan toll systems, according to Janet Matkin, WSDOT toll marketing communications manager.
Consultants’ proposals are due June 1, according to the notice in the May 14 DJC.
This will be a three-year contract. WSDOT anticipates spending $3 million in the first year, and $2 million per year after. There is an option to extend the contract to five years or more.
The state now tolls the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the state Route 167 HOT lanes. Motorists driving alone on SR 167 can pay to drive in the carpool, or high-occupancy vehicle, lanes. HOT stands for high-occupancy toll.
Starting next spring, SR 520 bridge tolls will be collected electronically through prepaid Good to Go accounts or by mail via bills sent to registered vehicle owners. Toll rates will vary depending on the time of day; the goal is to encourage more off-peak travel and reduce congestion.
WSDOT also is looking at tolling the Eastside corridor, which is more than 50 miles long and connects Interstate 405 to state routes 167 and 512. WSDOT officials studied the matter with representatives of cities in the corridor. The group recommended that WSDOT phase in tolling, starting with the Bellevue-to-Lynnwood portion of 405.
Another possibility is tolling vehicles that use the proposed tunnel that could replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct on Seattle’s waterfront, as well as vehicles on the proposed Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River between Vancouver and Portland.
Last year, the Puget Sound Regional Council Executive Board endorsed a plan called Transportation 2040. It would move the region away from gas taxes and other traditional revenue sources toward user fees, including tolls on freeways and other major highways.
The plan assumes that by 2020 all major roads will be either tolled or have HOT lanes. By 2030, all lanes will be fully tolled. The plan also says the region should consider replacing the fuel tax with a charge for miles traveled.
PSRC released the final environmental impact statement on the plan in March, and the PSRC General Assembly is scheduled to adopt the plan at its meeting at 3:30 p.m. today at the Doubletree Arctic Club Hotel at 700 Third Ave., in Seattle.
Ninety-seven percent of the Executive Board voted for the plan in December. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola cast the no votes. Based on the overwhelming approval last year, a PSRC representative said the General Assembly is expected to approve the plan.
A McGinn spokesperson said the mayor voted against the plan because it does not meet “our objectives for transit, land use, social equity, or greenhouse emissions. Instead of moving our region forward in improving transit, density, equal access to infrastructure and greenhouse gas reductions, the plan will preserve the status quo with only relatively modest investments in transit and biking, coupled with massive expansions of new highways.”
(Editor’s note: This original story has been updated to explain why McGinn voted no.)
The plan includes $191 billion worth of transportation projects. Among them are completing projects in the Sound Transit 2 package that voters OK’d in 2008; and finishing state Route 167, the Cross Base Highway in Pierce County and state Route 509 south of Sea-Tac Airport.
The plan supports replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the SR 520 floating bridge. Other highways would be widened. A complete list of the projects is at psrc.org.
A PSRC analysis shows financing exists for only about $125 billion of the projects. PSRC staff members said in December that this doesn’t necessarily mean the plan is financially impractical. They said about half of the $66 billion shortfall could come from toll revenue.
WSDOT’s plan to hire a statewide toll consultant is not directly related to the tolling recommendations in Transportation 2040, but does recognize the role tolling will play in the construction of large transportation projects in Washington, Matkin said.
The General Assembly is composed of elected officials representing PSRC members, including King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties, 71 cities and towns, the region’s port districts, transit agencies and tribes.