Why doesn’t the WSDOT help us out next week?

July 17, 2014

Starting tomorrow night, three westbound lanes of Interstate 90 across Lake Washington will be closed for a week due to bridge repairs. The construction could lead to crippling congestion for cars and buses across and around the lake. The unusual shut down has irritated many in the public, who look to state officials to reduce or eliminate the tolls on SR-520 to ease some of the frustration. The Washington State Transportation Commission, responsible for tolling in the region, responded:

“To provide a week long exemption from paying tolls on the SR 520 Bridge during the I-90 construction project would result in a loss of revenue estimated to be approximately $1.3 million.”

In other words, no dice. The Commission says their fiduciary responsibility involves paying back the triple pledge bonds backed by tolls, which is understandable.

Although, asking for some relief is also understandable. Drivers, through taxes and fees, fund the transportation budget. The same budget the Washington State Department of Transportation recently used to give an additional $14 million to King County Metro to help them out during the Alaskan Way Viaduct construction.

State leaders could work out a similar deal to ease the burden on 520 users as well.

Giving drivers relief by eliminating or reducing tolls is a lot like helping Metro, and would constitute less than 0.015% of the $8.7 billion biennial transportation budget. Yet it could end up being the best advertising campaign ever. It would be a small price to pay to bolster WSDOT’s image, especially in the face of the delayed tunnel project and the cost overruns on 520.