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Chokepoints: Telling the US 2 trestle tolling truth

Highway 2 trestle. (WSDOT image)

Plans to potentially toll Highway 2 made splashy headlines around the beginning of the year when a new study on paying for a new trestle was released. The decision is several years down the road, but it’s time to give you a little “Trestle 101” to set the table for the discussion to come.

Send Chris a question or complaint about traffic

It should come to no one’s surprise that traffic on the trestle that connects I-5 to Lake Stevens and Snohomish is awful. It has been for years, and it’s only getting worse with more and more people moving into the area. More than 18,000 vehicles a day use the trestle.

The state wants to build a new trestle just north of the existing one to handle all westbound traffic. The current trestle would handle all the eastbound traffic. It’s going to cost about a billion dollars to build. Construction isn’t set to begin until 2023, and we are only in the beginning stage of talking about how to fund it.

The study looked at all options, including raising the gas tax by 3 cents statewide to pay for it, and tolling, among other options.

Democratic Senator Steve Hobbs, the head of the Senate Transportation Committee, is from Lake Stevens. He really doesn’t want a toll, but he said the project has to be paid for somehow.

“First choice, no tolls,” he said, “but maybe it’s something where it’s a little bit of a toll. It’s a transportation benefit district. It’s a little bit of a gas tax, a little bit of federal funding, a little bit of Port of Everett.”

What caught everyone’s attention in this preliminary study was the toll rates that might be necessary to pay for the trestle. The tolls would be variable, just like the 520 Bridge, and they could be anywhere from a $1.25 to $5.25 each way.

Representative Mark Harmsworth, a Republican who also represents that district, told me he can’t sell a toll to Lake Stevens residents and he is raising alarm bells about the potential rates.

Senator Hobbs says some of the predictions about the tolls are just plain wrong.

“I just give warning to those out there that maybe hear of people saying ‘oh it’s a $6 toll,’ that’s just not the case, ” he said. “That is not going to happen. That is just fear-mongering and taking data and twisting it in an evil political purpose.”

As you might imagine, that did not sit well with Rep. Harmsworth, who responded, “If exposing the tolling plans is fear mongering, then Sen. Hobbs is correct and people should be scared. Sen. Hobbs has read the same funding report I have where it is clearly the recommendation of WSDOT to promote tolling on the US 2 trestle. As the Senate Transportation chair, Sen. Hobbs has the ability to put this matter to rest now by publicly stating his opposition to the tolling planning WSDOT is doing for the US 2 trestle.”

This exchange should give you a good foundation of what the next few years of discussion could become. Senator Hobbs says tolls won’t be dropped on the public without speaking to everyone involved.

Should tolling be used, it’s expected to start when construction does and not after the new trestle opens. Traffic modeling suggests anywhere between 25 to 33 percent of current drivers would divert to avoid paying the tolls.

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