Monday, January 22, 2007

For Whom the (Additional) Roads Toll

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Governor Christine Gregoire wants the Washington State Legislature to approve a two million dollar public-private partnership. Contractors would submit proposals later this year and the Department of Transportation would evaluate them next year.

The governor's proposal builds upon the Comprehensive Tolling Study released last fall by the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) and reviewed by RAMP at its September and November meetings. The 2007 Legislative Priorities adopted by RAMP support findings of the study and advocate use of tolling to support congestion management as well as to provide a supplementary source of transportation funding.

Projects could include widening I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, a new Columbia River bridge at Vancouver, and a replacement span for SR-520 across Lake Washington. The Comprehensive Tolling Study vets these projects as likely to return enough revenue to fiance the investment; other projects like SR-704 and the Alaskan Way Viaduct were not deemed cost effective.

The governor’s request is a revival of the program that led to construction of the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge; at that time, the bridge project was one of six public-private projects under consideration. Five others--including replacing the SR-520 floating bridge across Lake Washington--were dropped or removed from the final list.

Tolling provides an important tool to optimize the use of existing transportation infrastructure and also raise much-needed revenue for mega projects. It is fair to taxpayers because the users of the improvement--those who derive the most benefit--help pay for the improvement.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

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