Toll roads eyed in Washington state

| 6/26/2006

To help reduce the state’s $38 billion transportation funding gap, the Washington State Transportation Commission said they will ask lawmakers in the state to look at the possibility of installing tolls on some roads. Public forums are scheduled for this week to gage interest.

A study by the commission estimates a $4 toll at the Snoqualmie Pass would raise more than $500 million for construction, plus $3.1 million for annual upkeep, The Seattle Times reported. No specific toll rate for large trucks was provided.

Supporters say toll funds at the pass could help pay for projects such as widening a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 90 from Keechelus Dam to Easton.

“If you want to get the work done up there, which most people agree needs to be done, tolls are worth examining,” Transportation Commissioner Dick Ford told The Times.

A project to rebuild a five-mile stretch of I-90 along Keechelus Lake would be funded by $390 million in fuel taxes.

If legislators agree to tolling roadways in the state, the federal government would still need to give the state authorization to turn any existing interstate into a pay-to-play route.

Other projects that could be eyed for tolls include the state Highway 520 floating bridge and bridges on the Columbia River, The Times reported.

Tolls also are planned for the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge and state Highway 167 car-pool lanes between Auburn and Renton.

Public forums to discuss proposals on tolls are scheduled for Tuesday, June 27, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Clarion Hotel, 1507 N First St, Yakima, WA, and Wednesday, June 28, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Center Place, 2426 N Discovery Place, Spokane Valley, WA. Input received from the public at the meetings could become part of the commission’s recommendations that will be forwarded to the Legislature, which ordered the study in 2005.

While state officials in Washington are making plans to pursue tolling roadways throughout the state, the governor in Illinois said he is trying to ease tolling concerns in his state.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he won’t allow the Illinois Tollway to be sold or leased, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The governor’s Republican challenger in the November election, state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, has said that she would make sure the tollway isn’t handed over to a private group. She called on Blagojevich to make the same commitment.

Concerns about a possible hand over of the 274-mile tollway system have been widespread since Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, announced this spring that he is looking into the possibility of leasing it.

Schoenberg pointed out that the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road netted the Hoosier State $3.85 billion and the 99-year lease of the Chicago Skyway brought in $1.83 billion. He said those figures could translate into a $14.6 billion price tag for the Illinois Tollway.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor