2/14/2013Washington: Group Proposes Statewide Initiative To Ban Freeway Tolls
Initiative filed in Washington state would outlaw the tolling of interstate highways.
Activists in Washington state want voters to decide whether interstate highways should ever be converted into toll roads. An initiative filed on Tuesday with the secretary of state's office would repeal provisions in state law that promote the use of tolling and force full disclosure of information on existing and proposed projects. About 330,000 signatures would be needed to guarantee the measure a spot on an upcoming ballot.
"After the date that this act is approved by the voters of the state, the State of Washington, Washington State Department of Transportation and the Transportation Commission are prohibited from establishing tolls on any interstate system highways and any appurtenances thereto that are located within the boundaries of the state of Washington and prohibited from continuing to plan, promote policies, or otherwise engage in activities intended to promote or establish tolls on the state's interstate system roadways," the initiative states.
The Seattle-based group Democracy Workshop is behind the effort that specifically closes the forthcoming project to toll free lanes on Interstate 405 between Bellevue and Lynwood. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has already completed preliminary studies and has scheduled a meeting to promote the tolling plan on February 27. The existing State Route 167 HOT lanes project would remain in place, although it has proved to be a flop. According to the project's latest annual report, the HOT lanes have lost $1,135,529 in operational costs since opening in May 2008 -- not counting the $18.7 million cost for the electronic toll collection equipment. At the current rate of return, it would take 130 years for the project to break even.
The initiative does deliver a blow against existing freeway tolling projects by ordering WSDOT to place online every document available under the state's public records act regarding the HOT lanes and future plans for tolling. WSDOT would also have to create a full financial accounting of the public money spent promoting tolling. Traffic and revenue analyses would have to be presented "simultaneously" to government officials and the public. WSDOT would also be forced to notify the US Department of Transportation that the state's voters have prohibited the tolling of any freeway within the state.
"The above designated federal officials and their departments or agencies shall be unequivocally informed by the Department that no additional actions or activities in furtherance of Interstate tolling will be undertaken by the Washington State Department of Transportation, that any and all funding or resources of every kind pledged, held, or otherwise committed by the U.S. Department of Transportation or the Federal Highway Administration to support or sustain Washington State's, the Washington State Department of Transportation's programs or ambitions for an Interstate tolling program in Washington state should be withdrawn, terminated, or otherwise rescinded," the initiative states.
Tolling would only be allowed in the future if the project was approved by the majority of the state's voters.