The New York Times reports today that, second to NYC itself, Seattle was the big winner of US Department of Transportation funding for programs to study congestion pricing. The Big Apple received $354 million, while, the NYT writes, "Seattle received $138 million in federal support for its proposal to charge tolls to drivers on its new State Highway 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, a plan that city officials say will help reduce traffic." We've previously told you that would be happening in our lifetimes, and other local papers will soon be amplifying the same inevitable news. And readers and commuters will doubtlessly soon be protesting.
Though, to be strictly accurate, it's our Washington State Department of Transportation that's getting the funding. Today's WSDOT press release lauds a "grant program designed to improve traffic through the combined implementation of advanced transit, technology, telecommuting and tolling." Nowhere does it actually use the troublesome term congestion pricing, but the release does allude to "future decisions by the Washington State Legislature on how best to toll the bridge."
Will the legislature, the governor, and King County political players have the guts to enact such pricing plans? Will Tim Eyman lead a toll-payer revolt? Sure, we can probably expect years of political theater, but I'd recommend getting your E-Z Pass now, because that's where we're headed. WSDOT estimates a replacement for the Evergreen Point Bridge will cost four or five billion bucks. And to collect that much money, they'd better set the meters to debit us not just for crossing the lake, but for using the drive-throughs at McDonald's and Starbucks, too. Plus an extra penalty if it takes too long to read off your order.