Washington State Legislature OKs tolling bills

| 3/12/2008

A bill on its way to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire’s desk would set up a framework for collecting tolls in the state. Another bill headed to the governor’s desk would create a study group to help determine how the state would collect tolls on the state Route 520 replacement bridge.

At the urging of the governor, the state’s House and Senate approved a bill – HB1773 – that would give the Legislature authority to impose tolls on unspecified roads and bridges. Each toll project would require its own bill.

Another bill on the move would prohibit sales and use taxes from being used for large toll projects.

Transportation leaders at the Capitol predict tolling will be more widespread in the state’s not-to-distance future. They cite struggles to get voter approval to fund massive roads and transit efforts through higher sales and vehicle taxes.

Opponents say the state should spend the money it already collects more efficiently.

The new financing system is expected to help foot the bill for projects that include a new bridge over Lake Washington between Seattle and Bellevue. The state Route 520 floating bridge has a price tag of $4 billion, The Seattle Times reported.

The Washington State Transportation Commission would be responsible for following guidelines and requirements in determining toll rates. Also included in the bill is a provision for “variable tolls,” which would change constantly throughout the day to reflect traffic conditions.

Toll revenue would be earmarked solely for improvements, maintenance, enforcement and operation along the roadway money where the money is collected.

The House and Senate also approved advancing a bill – HB3096 – to Gregoire’s office that is intended to help determine financing for the 520 replacement bridge. A tolling implementation committee would be put together and WSDOT would seek approval from the Legislature for toll collection.

Tolls could be added to the existing and replacement bridge.

Also included in the bill is a provision requiring the state DOT to partner with the Federal Highway Administration to determine the steps needed to toll the Interstate 90 floating bridge across Lake Washington.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Washington in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor