Washington state Legislature OKs toll bills

| 5/5/2011

Two bills in Washington state awaiting action by the governor are touted as ways to improve travel times in east King County.

One bill – SB5700 – would establish toll rates on the state Route 520 bridge across Lake Washington. The second bill – HB1382 – would authorize express toll lanes on Interstate 405 from Bellevue to Interstate 5 at Lynnwood. The affected route stretches 40 miles.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said the toll revenues would pay for a much-needed replacement bridge for SR 520 and improvements for I-405.

“Our infrastructure is outdated,” Clibborn said in a previous statement. “These two corridors are among the most congested in the state, and as east King County continues to grow, the problem will only get worse unless we do something.”

The Senate voted 32-10 to sign off on House changes to the bill, clearing the way for SB5700 to advance to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s desk.

If signed into law, variable toll rates would be authorized on the bridge to pay for a replacement crossing. Tolling is expected to pay for about one-quarter of the $4.6 billion project. The project is about $2 billion shy of needed funding.

HB1382 was given final approval in the House on a 51-44 vote. The Senate already approved an amended version on a 36-13 vote.

In an effort to help generate revenue to pay for the planned expansion of I-405, high-occupancy vehicle lanes in the northern part of the corridor would be converted into toll lanes. Multiple passenger vehicles would continue to have free access to the two lanes in each direction while single-occupant vehicles could use the lanes for a fee.

The toll rate would vary according to traffic conditions. General purpose, or free lanes, would not be converted to express toll lanes.

A similar system is in place on state Route 167 between Auburn and Renton.

Critics of the toll plan say the fee charged to use 167 is low, much lower than the proposed toll on 405. Still, they say people do not use them. Another criticism shared by lawmakers was charging tolls for lanes built with fuel tax revenue.

Intended to ease concerns, the Senate added a provision to the bill to allow the state to shut down toll collection after two years if not enough money is being raised.

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

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.