Yesterday, publicity hound and conservative initiative king Tim Eyman sent out a mass e-mail with the text of an article sympathetic to his new anti-tolling measure. The story was by Crosscut's Knute Berger, the former editor of Seattle Weekly. Berger is no knee-jerk liberal; he's got a distinct libertarian streak. But he's no conservative either. You don't have to be one to support I-1125.
People of all political stripes are bound to feel under assault from the battery of tolls that are now under discussion--for the 520 bridge, I-90, the tunnel that is to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, even the express lanes of I-5. To bureaucrats, tolling seems to be like alcohol or pie: Once they get a taste, they can't seem to stop. And there are good reasons for that. If you toll one road (say 520), everybody's going to flood the alternate route (I-90) unless you toll that road too.
There's a case to be made that the chain reaction is particularly egregious when it comes to 520 and I-90. Berger points to a Sightline analysis suggesting that there isn't enough traffic on 520 to justify the massively expensive expansion that is planned. So not only would users of I-90 be hit up for cash to support another project, but it's one that might be wholly unnecessary.
Eyman's initiative wouldn't actually do away with tolls. But it would make them harder to enact by giving that job to the legislature, rather than the state Transportation Committee. I-1125 would also mandate that the tolls on a particular road go to pay for that same stretch of asphalt.
"Tolls paid for a project should go for that project," Eyman has said. "Once they are paid for, they should go away." Referring to the bureaucrats, he continued: "They think that tolls should go on forever, be imposed on anyone, and used for anything. We shouldn't toll one bridge to pay for another bridge."
SW has not been Eyman's biggest fan. But I have to admit that what he's saying makes sense. Sure, we could make every little patch of road a continuous revenue stream, and that would punish drivers the way our mayor and environmentalists seem to want, but it would also be an inequitable burden on the low-income and a sneaky runaround that prevents citizens from knowing what they're paying for.