Yesterday in Crosscut, the Northwest online daily journal of politics and public policy, I published a piece titled “Time to Go ‘All In’ On Tolls.” It starts this way:
The four-lane Evergreen Point Floating Bridge across Lake Washington on State Route 520 is a relic of a bygone era, congested and disaster prone. How urgent is the need for a planned six-lane replacement? The Washington State Department of Transportation has gone so far as to graphically model on YouTube how the bridge might buckle under duress, threatening lives and paralyzing the region’s highway network.
And is the region stepping up to the challenge? Less than half the funding is secured. The Seattle-side configuration is still being debated. More broadly, the project begs a more comprehensive regional tolling strategy because our bridges and highways are all connected. We can’t keep doing transportation mega-projects on a disjointed, one-off basis.
A key to any solution is tolling, and soon. Here and nationwide, 40 years of sizzling growth in vehicle miles traveled has left too many sections of highways, arterial roads, and bridges overburdened, in disrepair, and obsolete in the face of seismic and other hazards. Those ballyhooed federal stimulus funds were a mere drop in the bucket, amounting to less than one-quarter of what a landmark Congressional commission report says is needed annually. The per-gallon gas tax is badly failing at the federal and state levels. The federal gas tax trust fund is bankrupt, and living on bailouts. Even tripling state gas tax contributions to pending mega-projects in Washington state would do little to close wide funding gaps, state data show. A big new federal transportation bill — which may well include the first hike in the U.S. gas tax since 1993 — will help some, but not that much.