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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Bridge toll initiative is heading the wrong way

If your idea of a comprehensive transportation system is roads, roads and more roads with shaky methods of payment, then the latest Tim Eyman initiative is for you.

If you view managing traffic and establishing a sensible financing source to relieve economy-constricting bottlenecks as a wise idea, then you won’t sign the Initiative 1125 petition.

I-1125 would cripple the tolling of the state’s busiest highways to pay for much-needed bridges, roads and general maintenance. Next month, King County commuters will begin paying a toll to cross the state Highway 520 bridge, which traverses Lake Washington and connects Seattle to the eastern communities, to help pay for a replacement bridge. The Legislature capped funding at $4.65 billion, but even with tolling and other state and federal funding, the project is still about $2 billion short.

State lawmakers are considering tolling the nearby Interstate 90 bridge to forestall the immense traffic jam from those avoiding the Highway 520 toll and to raise money that could close the funding gap for the 520 bridge. If some people avoid both charges by keeping their cars at home and using alternatives, then that’s a positive outcome that eases the cost of road maintenance and expansion.

To head that off, Eyman is proposing an initiative that would do so many things that one wonders whether he’s forgotten about the single-subject rule that has scuttled some of his past efforts. If Eyman were to get his way:

• Toll revenue could only be spent on the project where it was raised. Say goodbye to that Highway 520 bridge financing. So how would it be paid for? Not his problem, says Eyman.

• The toll must be the same rate at all times. Say goodbye to “congestion pricing,” which is a sound way to manage traffic in peak hours. This would also mean no discounts for those crossing in off-peak hours.

• State lawmakers would have to set toll rates, not an appointed commission. This could raise financing charges, says State Treasurer Jim McIntire. Potential bondholders prefer the stability of toll-setting that is focused on debt retirement and not whims of political horse-trading.

So why should Eastern Washington care? Because if the ability to raise money from the highway users over there is diminished, the funds for such projects as the 520 bridge must be obtained from the pool of state money that could have been spent here.

Like it or not, the heart of Washington’s economy is the Puget Sound region. That’s also where traffic congestion is severe, and clogging those arteries jeopardizes the entire state. So efforts to build a coordinated transportation system with realistic pricing and smart incentives benefit everyone. User-based fees, such as tolls, gasoline taxes and licensing, need to be part of the mix.

Initiative 1125 would be an expensive U-turn that would leave us lost.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.
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