Let’s forget for a minute that the two “greenest” cities in the country, Portland and Seattle, are moving forward with multi-billion dollar freeway expansion projects: the Columbia River Crossing in Portland and the SR 520 bridge in Seattle.
Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that Washington State governor Christine Gregoire thinks expanding two highways is going to help the state meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2020.
Oh, and let’s not say anything about the complicity of Microsoft, located at the east end of the 520 bridge, and the University of Washington, located at the west end, in promoting the Seattle highway expansion–even though such vaunted institutions should be doing all they can to propel the city toward a more sustainable 21st century future.
No, for now, let’s devote no more than a few sentences to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s plan to begin tolling the 520 bridge this spring, ahead of construction, at a variable rate ranging from about $1.60 at 5:00 a.m. to $4.50 during rush hour.
CRC officials should move forward immediately with a similar plan. Start tolling the I-5 bridge (and I-205), and demonstrate to Oregon and Washington residents just how much this CRC behemoth is going to cost—and how much we can reduce congestion simply by instituting a pay as you drive scheme on the existing structure.
There is nothing good to say about either of these highway projects. They are a pox on a region that should be investing a portion of whatever-money-it-can-scrape-up in seismic bridge retrofits–and the rest in high speed rail and/or incremental upgrades to Amtrak and local transit systems.
Still, 520 project managers are ahead of us on the tolling issue. CRC officials should follow their lead.
An addendum: five years ago I wrote a NY Times story about neighborhood efforts to improve the 520 bridge design. Alas, they came to naught.
UPDATE: Over at Sightline, Clark Williams-Derry has some interesting data about declining traffic volumes in the Pacific Northwest and the resulting shortfall in tolling revenues. More reasons to start tolling the Interstate Bridge–to see if we really need a new freeway crossing and whether we will be able to pay for it.