Citizens' Guide to Initiative 1125
Michael Ennis, Director, Center for Transportation, September, 2011
I-1125 asks voters to decide on eight questions:
- Should toll revenue collected from motorists be used for non-transportation purposes?
- Should road lanes funded by gas taxes and tolls be used for non-highway purposes?
- Should toll revenue collected from motorists be restricted to highway purposes only?
- Should tolls only be used for construction of a new road, or may tolls be used for ongoing maintenance and operations?
- Should toll revenue be restricted to the roadway from which it was collected, or may toll revenue be used for other roads in other areas across the state?
- Should elected legislators set toll rates, or may they delegate that authority to an unelected commission?
- Should toll rates be constant, or may they change based on certain criteria like time-of-day or traffic volumes?
- Should toll revenue collected from the I-90 bridge across Lake Washington be restricted to funding improvements to I-90, or may the new revenue be used to fund other roads, like the proposed SR-520 bridge replacement?
In November, voters will have a chance to consider Initiative 1125. I-1125 is known as the “Protect Gas Taxes and Toll Revenues Act – Protect the 18th Amendment to Washington’s Constitution.”
I-1125 contains eight provisions that would affect how Washington officials collect and spend revenue from highway tolls.
Washington motorists have a lot of experience with tolls, which have been used to fund 14 bridges, including those across the Tacoma Narrows, the State Route (SR) 520 floating bridge and the Interstate 90 floating bridge. Generally, a toll was implemented and collected to pay for the capital cost of constructing the facility and once the debt was paid off the tolls were removed, which in some cases was earlier than first estimated. Washington officials have referred to this traditional type of toll policy as “pay as you go.”
Recently, however, officials have proposed a new approach that not only generates revenue, but also attempts to control driver behavior. Commonly known as congestion pricing, officials would charge motorists a fee to access certain lanes. The fees would change based on the time of day or traffic volumes. The toll would be permanent and officials would guarantee a congestion-free commute for those motorists who choose to pay the toll.
Washington officials have already implemented a congestion pricing pilot project on SR-167 south of Renton, and the state legislature approved a bill in 2011 to implement similar tollways on the north end of I-405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood. Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) officials also have plans to put tolls on the entire length of the SR-167/I-405 corridor, and parts of I-5 in the Puget Sound region. Tolls will also start soon on the existing SR-520 bridge across Lake Washington, and officials are thinking about imposing tolls on the existing I-90 bridge, the proposed Columbia River Bridge in Vancouver and the tunnel replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct through Seattle. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) also assumed in their most recent long range Transportation 2040 plan every primary and secondary roadway in the Puget Sound region would eventually have tolls.
This newly aggressive approach to using widespread roadway tolls has given rise to many questions about fairness, mobility and how the new revenue would be spent.