A few months ago, when we took an ini­tial look at the details of the scheme Tim Eyman said he was going to attempt to force a vote on in 2011, we con­clud­ed that it would inter­fere with vital trans­porta­tion projects around Wash­ing­ton, includ­ing many under or near­ing con­struc­tion, and many more on the draw­ing board.

Yes­ter­day, the Office of Finan­cial Man­age­ment released its own fis­cal impact state­ment of the ini­tia­tive, and their analy­sis con­firms what we’ve been say­ing for some time: I‑1125 would imper­il bad­ly need­ed infra­struc­ture upgrades intend­ed to improve safe­ty and relieve con­ges­tion.

Affect­ed facil­i­ties men­tioned in the impact state­ment include the Ever­green Point float­ing bridge (a key span of SR 520, which is being replaced), the SR 167 HOT lanes, and the pro­posed Inter­state 405 HOT lanes. Addi­tion­al­ly, oth­er facil­i­ties (like the new Colum­bia Riv­er Cross­ing) may be affect­ed if the Leg­is­la­ture decides to toll them as it is even­tu­al­ly expect­ed to.

The ini­tia­tive is not expect­ed to have any fis­cal impact on the already-com­plet­ed Taco­ma Nar­rows Bridge project, which is being paid off.

The heart of the analy­sis (PDF) focus­es on SR 520, because projects to improve that facil­i­ty would be the most threat­ened in the short term.

Threat num­ber one: I‑1125’s restric­tions could jeop­ar­dize future use of vari­able tolling on SR 520 if the toll needs to be raised in the future.

Cur­rent law requires the use of vari­able tolling. If a toll rate increase is nec­es­sary, a new toll rate analy­sis and sup­ple­men­tal envi­ron­men­tal review will be required to imple­ment a uni­form and con­sis­tent toll rate. Assum­ing that these analy­ses can be con­duct­ed con­cur­rent­ly with­in project sched­ules, the cost is esti­mat­ed at up to $3.2 mil­lion. Pri­or analy­sis indi­cates that a fixed toll rate equiv­a­lent to the weight­ed aver­age of vari­able tolls could reduce rev­enue by up to 11 per­cent due to dif­fer­ent traf­fic patterns.

In oth­er words, if tolls on SR 520 need­ed to be raised at some point in the future, they would have to be uni­form through­out the day (not vari­able). The elim­i­na­tion of vari­able tolling would cause some bridge users to make few­er trips over the bridge, or make no trips at all, pre­cip­i­tat­ing a decline in toll revenue.

Threat num­ber two: The state might have to repay grants to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, includ­ing mon­ey that has already been spent.

Fed­er­al Urban Part­ner­ship Agree­ment (UPA) grants were award­ed to the Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, King Coun­ty and King Coun­ty Fer­ry Dis­trict con­di­tioned on imple­ment­ing vari­able tolling on the exist­ing State Route 520 bridge. If a toll rate increase is nec­es­sary and vari­able tolling is pro­hib­it­ed, the state, King Coun­ty and King Coun­ty Fer­ry Dis­trict would lose author­i­ty to spend remain­ing grant funds and could be required to repay the entire grant amount.

Threat num­ber three: I‑1125 would make it more dif­fi­cult to sell bonds secured by toll rev­enue to finance the new Ever­green Point Float­ing Bridge.

Cur­rent law autho­rizes the issuance of $1.95 bil­lion in bonds secured sole­ly by toll rev­enue or secured by both toll and gas tax rev­enue. The State Trea­sur­er states that requir­ing tolls to be set and adjust­ed by the Leg­is­la­ture rather than by an inde­pen­dent toll-set­ting body would make the cost of bonds secured sole­ly by toll rev­enue pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive and would be unprece­dent­ed nation­al­ly. Because investors in toll rev­enue bonds see the inde­pen­dence of toll-set­ting bod­ies as a crit­i­cal cred­it char­ac­ter­is­tic, no oth­er toll rev­enue bond issuer in the nation sets tolls sub­ject to leg­isla­tive approval (Pub­lic Resource Advi­so­ry Group analy­sis, Feb. 8, 2011). There­fore, the State Trea­sur­er states that bonds secured sole­ly by toll rev­enue would be elim­i­nat­ed as a financ­ing tool for the bridge. Gas tax or oth­er rev­enues would be nec­es­sary to issue bonds, reduc­ing over­all capac­i­ty to finance trans­porta­tion projects, which may impact future expenditures.

If tolling goes out the win­dow as a financ­ing option for SR 520, that means peo­ple who live fur­ther away from the SR 520 cor­ri­dor (and don’t make use of it on a reg­u­lar basis) would have to pay more towards the cost of the new float­ing bridge. Not mov­ing ahead with the new bridge sim­ply isn’t an option. We need the new Ever­green Point Float­ing Bridge. The old one is vul­ner­a­ble to earth­quakes and wind­storms; it’s got to be replaced.

The Leg­is­la­ture autho­rized tolling on SR 520 because exten­sive research and out­reach con­duct­ed by the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion has shown that peo­ple pre­fer pay­ing tolls to oth­er meth­ods of financ­ing a new bridge.

Tim Eyman and his wealthy bene­fac­tor Kem­per Free­man Jr. may think they under­stand trans­porta­tion engi­neer­ing bet­ter than the peo­ple who were actu­al­ly pro­fes­sion­al­ly trained as high­way engi­neers, but in real­i­ty, they don’t know what they’re doing. Tim Eyman has no famil­iar­i­ty or expe­ri­ence with writ­ing bud­gets, deliv­er­ing ser­vices to the pub­lic, or plan­ning projects.

That’s why it is so easy for Eyman to dis­miss the con­cerns that inevitably get raised about the harm his ini­tia­tives would cause. Eyman does­n’t have to deal with the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of his ini­tia­tives if they pass. When he and the right wing fool vot­ers into mak­ing a mess, they’re not the ones who have to clean it up.

This autumn, join NPI and thou­sands of oth­er con­cerned indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions in Wash­ing­ton in vot­ing NO on Tim Eyman’s I‑1125.

Let’s keep Wash­ing­ton rolling and keep vital trans­porta­tion projects like the new Ever­green Point Float­ing Bridge on track.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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