3/13/2013Washington: Voter Initiative Kills New Toll Roads
State official rules Transportation Commission can no longer set tolls in Washington state.
Converting freeways into toll roads is one of the most popular types of project among transportation bureaucrats and certain politicians. When asked their opinion on the wisdom of tolling, voters have expressed a far different sentiment. In Washington state, for example, there is now no question that Initiative 1185, which took effect last December, will block a number of tolling projects that have been in the works.
"There will be no unilateral increase in tolls by the Transportation Commission because the voters said no to agency-imposed increases in November," initiative sponsor Tim Eyman said in a statement. "That means no tolls for 405 HOT lanes, no tolls for the Alaska Way Viaduct, no tolls for the Columbia River Crossing, and no toll increases on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge."
The initiative, which passed with the support of 64 percent of voters, does not directly ban tolls. Instead, it requires fee increases of any type (including tolls) to be approved in a bill duly passed by the legislature and signed into law. Some politicians have preferred tolling as a means of outsourcing unpopular increases to a third-party toll management company or, for publicly owned toll roads, to the state Transportation Commission, whose members are not accountable to the public.
State Senator Pam Roach (R-Auburn), a major supporter of I-1185, asked the state attorney general for a ruling on which projects previously approved by the state now need specific legislative approval because they raise fees and tolls. In a response to Senator Roach, the state Office of Financial Management listed four tolling projects as off-the-table, unless the legislature specifically sets the tolls with a clear vote.
"These impactful decisions will now need to be made after bills are introduced, public hearings are held, public testimony is taken, elected legislators take recorded votes, and the governor signs the legislation," Eyman said. "In other words, there will be no taxation without representation, one of the founding principles of our country."
Last month, the state Transportation Commission scheduled a meeting on Tuesday, March 19, to discuss several tolling projects. In a statement, Roach vowed to "testify and watchdog the committee" at the hearing.