Thursday 6 October 2011

Washington state toll referendum threatens funding for SR-520 bridge replacement

Seattle PI reports that Initiative 1125, a proposed referendum on severely restricting the use of tolls in the state of Washington, would interfere with the funding for a number of projects according to the State Office of Financial Management.

Some of the effects would be:
- To block use of toll revenue from Interstate 90 to help pay for rebuilding the neighbouring SR-520 bridge;
- To have toll rates set by legislation rather than by the State Transportation Commission;
- To eliminate any potential options for congestion pricing;
- To puts at risk $123 million in Federal funding, secured for the S.R. 520 project, because congestion pricing could not be considered;
- To risk blocking the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel because it too includes congestion pricing.

I reported earlier on Initiative 1125 and concluded that, on balance, it would be negative:

It is tempting to stop politicians using tolls as an easy tax to divert from motorists, but it also doesn’t make sense to be ridiculously prescriptive in ways that don’t reflect good economic principles. I can understand imposing a restriction on a hypothecated fund to spend money on roads, and for tolling to be related to the costs of the roads tolled, and be spent on the network of the entity tolling. However, to restrict time and purpose of toll revenue spending is unduly would be wrong for this initiative to pass, because it is better to sacrifice improvements in one area to avoid a significant deterioration in the law on tolling in another.

This simply strengthens my view on this. There are sound reasons for putting some constraints around the use of tolls for non-road purposes, this initiative does far more than that and risks damaging the value of tolling for the State of Washington.

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