Drivers should expect more tolling on state roadways

SEATTLE -- It's been a year since tolling began on the 520 Bridge, and the state likes what it sees.

The Department of Transportation says traffic is moving and toll revenue is meeting state projections. In fact, it's all working so well that tolling will soon be extended to even more roadways.

"We're happy to hear revenues are coming in as expected," said Reema Griffith with the Washington State Transportation Commission.

Griffith and the rest of the commission will have to decide if it's enough revenue, which is still under review and part of a two-day briefing with the Department of Transportation.

"You're number one goal is to make sure the financing is covered," WSDOT's Craig Stone told the commission.

A built-in toll increase on the 520 Bridge is scheduled for July, and the commission is waiting on more data before deciding exactly how much the increase will be. The increase could be 2 1/2 percent -- roughly 10 cents -- but Griffith said that isn't settled yet.

The commission believes tolls are the new transportation revenue trend. With less help coming from the federal government and dismal gas tax revenue, the commission says tolls in congested urban areas are necessary.

"It's trying to give people options on their travel," Griffith said. "If they can pay a little more to get a better commute, that option needs to be provided and that's where our state is heading for the urban area."

The legislature already gave its blessing for tolls on the Viaduct Tunnel Project, as well as an Express Hot Lane on 405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood and for a new Columbia River Crossing, which is a bridge that connects Oregon to Washington.

"We're looking at big, mega projects," Stone said. "How do you finance them? How do you get the benefits for that? And tolls come in to that."

How much and what kind of tolls are still being decided, and by the time that's figured out there may be tolling on I-90, which is currently being studied.

"There is a price to pay to have a better commute," Griffith said.

In addition to tolling increases, the commission and the governor announced separate proposals calling on the state legislature to pass a gas tax hike to pay for transportation costs.