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New York’s approval of congestion tolling not likely to sway Seattle


Congestion tolling has long been a controversial issue in the Northwest, and as Seattle considers whether to enact its own tolling model downtown, it’s nearing the home stretch for implementation in New York.

RELATED: How congestion tolling could help solve Seattle’s traffic woes

That being so, a successful tolling system in New York City could finally give supporters the ammunition they need to convince Seattleites to get on board, right? Not so fast, says Washington State Transportation Director Mark Hallenbeck.

“It’s always nice to have an example in your country. Beyond that, I just don’t think it will have a huge impact on what Seattle does or doesn’t do,” Hallenbeck told MyNorthwest.

New York’s model — should it get final approval — would be implemented in Manhattan. And while exact specifics of the congestion tolling model have yet to be determined, the New York Times reported Monday that state leaders have agreed the system is a necessity for funding vital repairs to the city’s subway system.

Estimates from the city in the Times’ report claim that the program could potentially raise billions of dollars to “modernize the antiquated subway.” Even with Seattle’s own public transit system in need of an update of its own, though, Hallenbeck notes that many view New York as an entirely different animal.

“I don’t think very many people view Seattle as being Manhattan — even though it’s in the U.S., I don’t see them saying ‘well that’s good enough for Manhattan, it’s good enough for us,” he said. “Whether New York does it or doesn’t do it, I think everybody here will shrug their shoulders and say ‘good for New York.’”

Ultimately, Hallenbeck predicts that it will come down to what Seattle city leaders end up proposing, and whether that works for voters.

“The real key is, can you convince the public that this is to their advantage? It comes out to whether the cost they pay is modest compared to the outcomes they gain, and that their particular individual interests are not going to be harmed by this outcome — those basic criteria are not impacted by whether New York shows you can do it or not.”

RELATED: Uber advocating for downtown Seattle tolling

New York would become the first city in the United States to enact a congestion tolling model, while other cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are currently weighing proposals of their own.

Outside of the U.S., congestion pricing managed to reduce the volume of cars moving through London by around 15 percent starting in 2003, while Stockholm’s own program decreased traffic by over 20 percent.

“It’s the absolute best congestion relief mechanism known to mankind,” Hallenbeck told MyNorthwest back in January.

Seattle will have a decision of its own to make once a study commissioned by Mayor Jenny Durkan presents its findings. When that day comes, the odds are that Seattleites will have their own factors to consider.

“I think it’s much more likely that the public will be viewing the proposal on its merits, and those merits mean ‘how much is this going to cost me, how do I get away from paying it, and where are you spending the money?’” Hallenbeck posited.

Seattle’s congestion tolling study is being conducted by consulting company Nelson\Nygaard, but little has been heard since it was first commissioned.

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