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Blog Toll Premiums = Congestion Insurance

In a Puget Sound Business Journal op-ed, Cascadia Center’s Co-Directors Bruce Agnew and Tom Till make the case for regional transportation governance and tolling. They write:

People in Puget Sound want politicians to solve the traffic congestion problem. They have supported two statewide gas-tax packages since 2003. While other regions fund transportation with a mix of public and private funding, our state has been reluctant to embrace such partnerships and tolling. Elected leaders are gun shy about too much talk of new tolls, except for those on the 520 bridge. Politicians risk being accused of bait and switch, however, if they promise to complete all the projects without the help of tolls.
A new report to the state calls for tolls on SR 520 and I-90, sooner rather than later, and a statewide system of toll facilities. Are tolls such a tough case to make to voters? Even if you live in Marysville and never go to Seattle, you can understand why we all need to spend more on roads and transit. You see it in growing residential traffic and more trucks on the freeway carrying goods to stores. And it seems fair that the person who drives on a new 520 bridge or State Route 99 (or even the express lanes on Interstate 5 and Interstate 90) should pay a toll because they use it.
A fair mixture of taxes and tolls also affords people a choice between time and money. If parents want to get to the Tacoma Dome for their kid’s basketball championship, they’ll pay a premium $10 charge to arrive for tip-off. It’s called “congestion insurance,” and it works.

Imposition of such premium peak-hour tolls is an important objective, one which can earn support from both fiscal conservatives opposed to further transportation tax increases, and environmentalists supporting transit and telecommuting incentives. The first hurdles would be gaining state and federal support for tolling I-90, and then – to ensure regional and/or statewide coordination – establishing a toll-setting body. But already, prompted in part by the SR 520 project-financing concerns of State Treasurer Michael Murphy, the idea of distributed tolling to help pay for road and transit improvements in Puget Sound is gaining momentum. Joining the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Tacoma News Tribune today editorializes in support of tolling SR 520 and I-90 to close a funding gap in the necessary six-lane replacement planned for the dangerously storm- and earthquake-prone SR 520 floating bridge.