Friday, October 03, 2008

RAMP Weighs Potential for SR-167 Tolls and Initiative 985

Attendees of the Oct. 1st RAMP meeting heard presentations on two issues that could have long term implications for mobility and congestion relief in the South Sound.

SR-167 Tolling Study
RAMP was presented with a proposal for a study to determine the viability of tolling SR-167 to pay for the extension from Puyallup to SR-509 in Tacoma. Because of anticipated budget shortfalls in 2009, it appears extremely unlikely that new funds will be available for RAMP's traditional priority projects, such as SR-167, SR-704, or SR-162. There also appears to be a growing reluctance to increase taxes traditionally used to fund transportation projects, like the gas tax or license tab fees.

Last year, the Legislature passed a measure (HB 3096) establishing a task force to develop a comprehensive approach for how to fund the SR-520 bridge replacement, including a detailed discussion of tolling. Because neither state nor regional revenue appears likely in foreseeable future, the 520-bridge bill could serve as a model to determine whether tolling could fund a significant portion of SR-167. This does not indicate a commitment to tolling, but rather an attempt to determine whether tolling is a viable alternative. There was general interest among RAMP attendees to support such a bill during the 2009 legislative session.

Initiative 985
During the second half of the session Kris Sjoblom of the Washington Research Council presented the details of Initiative 985. The initiative’s author, Tim Eyman contends that the details of I-985 are based on State Auditor Sonntag’s recent transportation audit. However, some including former Washington State Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald challenge that the initiative strays from the audit’s findings.

I-985 addresses three primary policy areas: HOV lanes, traffic light synchronization and rapid response to breakdowns, accidents and other obstructions. Sjoblom explained that I-985 proposes to establish a “Reduce Traffic Congestion” account. Account revenue would be generated through allocating 15% of the 6.5 cent sales tax on motor vehicle sales, all toll revenue in excess of construction and maintenance costs, one-half of one percent of the money currently dedicated to the Washington State Arts Commission for art on the highways, revenue generated from red-light cameras. After implementation, during the 2011-2013 biennium the actual revenue generated in this account is anticipated to be approximately $75 million.

Funds collected in the account would be spent on:

  • Signage necessary to open HOV lanes to all vehicles outside 6am-9am & 3pm-6pm
  • Synchronizing traffic lights in heavily traveled roadways
  • Improving emergency roadside assistance
  • Funding the State Auditor to establish light standards and monitor performance
  • “Any other purpose which reduces traffic congestion by reducing vehicle delay times by expanding road capacity and general purpose use to improve traffic flow for all vehicles…[but excluding] bike paths or lanes, wildlife crossings, landscaping, park and ride lots, ferries, trolleys, buses, monorail, light rail or heavy rail.”

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