Ross: Let the rich pay the exorbitant ‘luxury lane’ toll prices

Jun 10, 2024, 6:17 AM

luxury lane toll...

WSDOT's $15 toll on SR-167 (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

I’m guessing most of us accept our competitive free market system. You pretty much have to, otherwise you’ll be called a commie.

And yet, even free-market believers seem to start doubting when they can feel the free market reaching deeper and deeper into their own wallets.

As Chris Sullivan has been documenting every morning, and as Danny Westneat observed in his Seattle Times column Sunday, the new higher tolls for solo drivers in the luxury lane are hitting the $15 maximum every rush hour.

More on local tolls: SR 520 toll rates will increase this summer, here’s how much

He even published a screenshot from the Washington Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) website showing that last week, solo drivers were paying the $15 maximum to save exactly three minutes driving from Renton to Auburn.

Which sounds ridiculous when you put it that way. But who are we to judge how people spend their lawfully-earned money? Have you seen what the airlines charge for the extra three inches of seat width in first class?

There’s this criticism of the luxury lanes as being insensitive to the plight of the people in the slum lanes.

But let’s think this through: In the example of driving from Renton to Auburn last week, where the rich people saved all of three minutes – the flip side to that is everybody else got a bargain! Just for exercising three minutes worth of patience, they saved 15 bucks. That’s the equivalent of making $300 an hour!

I say if rich people are OK with getting ripped off like that – let them pay. And let them pay whatever the state can get away with.

More from Dave Ross: If popularity creates immunity, maybe the ‘Belltown Hellcat Bandit’ should run for president

I know Washington voters have an aversion to imposing special tax burdens on the rich; I know a lot of you can’t wait to repeal the capital gains tax in November. But in the case of the toll lanes – the rich are freely choosing to pay. No one’s forcing them. Why do they need an artificial toll limit of $15 to protect them from their own choices?

The toll lanes have taught highway departments what the airlines learned long ago – people will pay for privileges that make them feel special. And considering the huge gap between tax revenue and what it actually costs to build and maintain these highways – it’s time to give them what they want for whatever they’re willing to pay.

Listen to “Seattle’s Morning News” with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ross: Let the rich pay the exorbitant ‘luxury lane’ toll prices