CHOKEPOINTS

Expanded SR 520 tolling going down to wire in Olympia

Mar 7, 2024, 6:01 AM | Updated: Mar 8, 2024, 2:06 pm

520 tolling...

WSDOT's shared-use path on the SR 520 floating bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians. (Photo courtesy of WSDOT)

(Photo courtesy of WSDOT)

Corrections and clarifications: A previous version of this piece misidentified the Washington State Transportation Commission’s planned topic of discussion about 520 tolling for an upcoming meeting. It has been updated with the correct information.

It’s down to the final hours in the legislature, and funding to finish the State Route 520 (SR 520) bridge remains in play.

The session ends at midnight and plans to expand tolling on SR 520 to help pay for finishing construction are fading.

The Senate passed a bill last week that would defer sales tax payments on the future construction over Portage Bay. It would also allow tolling from Interstate 5 to Redmond, the entire stretch of the freeway. The current law only allows tolling on the floating section of SR 520.

The House Transportation Committee took up the bill this week and changed it. The committee stripped the expansion of tolling from the bill, choosing only to go forward with deferring sales tax payments.

More Chokepoints content: Sound Transit parking changes on the way

The reason? Committee Chair Jake Fey said there just isn’t enough information about what tolling expansion would do to congestion, traffic patterns and revenues.

“We need to take a look at the whole picture of things and make sure that if we go forward with segment tolling, we don’t cause other congestion problems in other places,” he said.

Researching an expansion of tolling hasn’t even started. Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) Executive Director Reema Griffith told lawmakers that kind of analysis would take a while.

“We do think there is value in beginning that assessment given those do take maybe three to five years to really run through, vet and do public engagement,” she testified. “It’s not a fast process.”

Next week, the WSTC will start discussing the idea of a potential toll rate increase for the SR 520 floating bridge, which the agency anticipates would take effect this summer.

The full House passed the bill last night. It must now go back to the Senate, with just hours to go.

Finding the funds won’t be easy

So it looks like tolling SR 520 from Seattle to Redmond will not help fill the near-$600 million shortfall the Portage Bay project estimates. State Rep. Andrew Barkis said finding that money in the overall budget will not be an easy lift.

“This has been a monumental task this session,” Barkis said. “Working on this particular piece of the budget and knowing how important this is to our region, but also the challenges that lie ahead when it comes to looking at the resources that are available.”

More from Chris Sullivan: Friday marks first commute with higher tolls on I-405, SR 167

It’s not likely the Democratic-controlled legislature will look for a solution to the SR 520 funding in the supplemental transportation budget.

It has become clear the strategy is to tie any SR 520 funding to the very unpopular Climate Commitment Act, which has raised gas prices by over $0.40 a gallon, and then forcing voters to make a choice in the November ballot.

Do you want funding for SR 520 or do you want lower gas prices? That’s what the political campaign against the citizen’s initiative is expected to be.

As it stands right now, plans to finish the SR 520 project are in limbo.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints here. You can also follow Chris on X, formerly known as TwitterHead here to follow KIRO Newsradio Traffic’s profile on X.

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Expanded SR 520 tolling going down to wire in Olympia