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Senator aims to ban congestion pricing before Seattle can implement its own

The downtown Seattle skyline. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A Washington state senator is proposing legislation that will block Seattle, and other cities, from imposing tolls on city streets, a practice known as congestion pricing.

“With the bill, the Legislature would prohibit cities and counties from enacting tolls,” said State Senator Tim Sheldon. “It wouldn’t single out Seattle as the only city that could not toll. But it would include them in the whole category.”

“The whole idea for congestion pricing is really a euphemism for tolls,” he added. “And Seattle is the only city, I understand, that is getting ready to do this. I want to make sure that it doesn’t happen.”

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Sen. Sheldon is a Democrat who represents Washington’s 35th Legislative District, which covers parts of Mason, Kitsap, and Thurston Counties. He is proposing Senate Bill 5104 that will bar cities and counties from implementing their own tolls.

With more people moving to town every day, and other changes that are worsening traffic, Seattle has considered the idea of congestion pricing in its downtown. For example, the new SR99 tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct will come with a toll. City leaders such as Mike O’Brien have said that Seattle should toll surface streets to deter drivers avoiding tunnel tolls.

On top of that, Mayor Jenny Durkan has said she wants some form of congestion pricing in place by the end of her current term. She has obtained funding for the city to study congestion pricing so far.

But Senator Sheldon argues that congestion pricing is an unfair practice, and is bad for economic reasons. He says Seattle and the state’s other large cities are assets for Washington; they drive the economy. More than just city residents rely on them.

He notes that people drive through Seattle for medical purposes, work, or for a simple night of entertainment. The roads are also used for transporting goods and for trade. He says that Seattle’s street tolls won’t be a simple basket drivers throw coins into. It will be high tech and take pictures of drivers before mailing them a bill.

“Really, it’s unfair for those who are lower income who have to go to Seattle for business and other reasons,” Sheldon said. “Pretty soon, it will be only the rich who have got a car and are able to drive in Seattle.”

“People are already paying astronomical parking fees in large cities like Seattle,” he said. “And one thing I have heard from people, and I believe this is true, a lot of ladies want their vehicle with them at work. Something happens with their kid at the daycare or school, or whatever, they want to get in that car and go there. They don’t want to take a bus there. They don’t want to figure out another way with rapid transit to get to daycare … I think it cuts across demographics though. The idea of tolling city streets — you paid for them once, and (I don’t like) the idea the city can raise the draw bridge and say, ‘only certain people with financial means to pay those tolls are allowed in our city.'”

Senator Sheldon further said that dads also want their cars nearby.

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