Gregoire wants toll on 520 floating bridge — starting next year
Gov. Christine Gregoire today advocated placing tolls on the existing Highway 520 bridge as soon as next year — and maybe charging...
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Gov. Christine Gregoire today advocated placing tolls on the existing Highway 520 bridge as soon as next year — and maybe charging tolls on both Lake Washington bridges — to help pay for a new 520 floating bridge.
Otherwise, she said, tolls on the new bridge would be too high once it's completed in 2018.
"If all we do is begin tolling in 2018 and only on 520, my fear is the price will be so high we will cause a mess outside 520," Gregoire said at a news conference this morning in Bellevue to outline her financing plan for the new bridge.
Gregoire also said she supports variable tolling, which would charge higher tolls at busier times of day.
The governor and the state Legislature have to come up with a new 520 funding plan after voters in November defeated a tax package that would have provided $1.1 billion toward the project.
Cost of a new bridge is now estimated at $4 billion, with half paid by state and federal sources and the rest by tolls, Gregoire said.
The new estimated price is for a road deck narrower than some earlier designs and smaller pontoons beneath it. Trimming the size of the bridge could save $100 million to $500 million, said state Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chair of the House Transportation Committee, who has been briefed on the proposals.
Funding for the replacement bridge will not go before voters again, said Gregoire spokesman Aaron Toso. Instead, the governor is writing a bill aimed at having the Legislature take full responsibility for funding.
In November, a multibillion-dollar roads and transit ballot measure included $1.1 billion toward a $4.4 billion floating bridge, but voters rejected it.
Today's four-lane bridge across Lake Washington is cracking and could be ruined by waves in a severe windstorm. On its west side, columns are eroding from within and could break in an earthquake. And with 115,000 weekday trips, traffic fills the bridge or its approaches for several hours a day.
Despite such problems, debates over a new or expanded bridge have dragged on for nearly two decades. The 520 has long been a hot potato because Seattle's lakefront neighbors fear a larger structure would threaten their tranquillity, and because politicians have preferred to channel state money toward highways in their districts.
Building a narrower bridge will be controversial, because the state Department of Transportation had envisioned a series of twin, 75-foot-wide pontoons to provide extra buoyancy, allowing future light-rail or other trains to be added. Any downsizing might hinder a transit retrofit two or three decades from now.
Lawmakers would not pass a final funding plan until 2009, after months of public outreach and study, said Clibborn.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said he had not seen the governor's proposal, but is willing to discuss tolling ideas. "I'm wanting to work in good faith with everybody, on the amount and timing," he said.
A big question is what Gregoire thinks of the current "Pacific Interchange" option, which features an exit bridge from Foster Island above Union Bay to Husky Stadium. Scrapping that could save money, but also concentrate more ramps and traffic near Montlake-area houses, where an interchange exists now.
Clibborn portrayed today's proposal as a group of options, several of which were aired in 2007, as opposed to a fixed plan.
Gregoire is being challenged for re-election by Republican Dino Rossi, who lost a close, disputed race against her in 2004. "I wonder why there's been nothing from her before this," said Rossi campaign spokeswoman Jill Strait. "She's had three years as governor."
Rossi has yet to share his own views on 520. He will release a state transportation plan later this year, said Strait.
Staff reporter Ashley Bach contributed to this report. Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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