CHOKEPOINTS

Would you pay a $17 toll to drive from Seattle to Tacoma?

Jun 26, 2017, 12:53 PM | Updated: Dec 19, 2017, 5:27 pm
drivers...
(AP file photo)
(AP file photo)

Tolling is slowly being added in Western Washington but, so far, the bulk of our roadways remain free to use — after taxes. But what if drivers were charged nearly every time they got into their vehicles?

A report by The Seattle Times reminds us that the Puget Sound Regional Council has studied that exact idea in the past and proposed a plan to have “full highway system tolls” by 2030.

The study found that by tolling drivers per mile driven — based on time of day and route — commute times would be dramatically reduced. Those quick drive times would come at a price, especially for people who decide to continue to commute during peak times. As the Times reports, citing the study, a rush-hour trip from Seattle to Tacoma would be cut down to about 39 minutes, but it would cost the driver $17.

The argument for region-wide tolling via GPS is easy to understand for anyone who gets behind the wheel: Toll everyone and weed out the people who don’t need to drive and/or change driving habits so that fewer people are on the road at once, while reducing emissions.

Though it seems as though the the Regional Council is backing away from the idea, there’s another project just months away that incorporates the same principle.

The Washington State Transportation Commission plans to launch a year-long pilot project to let participants test a per-mile fee system that would replace the state’s gas tax.

Reema Griffith, the executive director of the commission, said the Legislature and commission have studied the idea since 2012.

As KIRO Radio’s Chris Sullivan previously pointed out, the reason behind the pay-per-mile system has to do with the more fuel-efficient vehicles on the market. People are buying less gas, thus paying less gas tax.

Washington is considering four options to track your mileage. Those options include a flat fee, using your odometer, a smartphone app, or a GPS tracker.

It’s tough to imagine either a statewide tolling system or a pay-per-mile gas tax receiving much support in this current political climate, however. In less than two years since they began operating, politicians have called for the end of tolling on I-405. Even in progressive Seattle, where a separate study was done to look at tolling within city limits, nobody is moving forward with the idea.

Meanwhile, traffic continues to worsen thanks to a growing population, even as city and state leaders work to reduce the problem. A state report at the end of last year found that overall traffic has become worse by at least 35 percent in the past three years. That includes more congestion along I-5, I-405, and I-90. The only highways that improved were SR 520 and SR 167.

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Would you pay a $17 toll to drive from Seattle to Tacoma?