After I-405 blowback, regional planners are stepping back from vision of widespread tolls

The unpopularity of the express toll lanes on Interstate 405 might have a lasting impact on how our region pays for roads.

In a 2010 planning document called Transportation 2040, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) envisioned filling funding gaps with "highway system tolling" that would be widespread.

"All the freeways, which would no longer be freeways, and possibly even principal arterials," said Sammamish City Council member Don Gerend, who worked on that plan and is now working on an update.

He says the idea of counting on money for transportation from future highway tolls has fallen out of favor with regional planners since the toll lanes opened on I-405.

"I think as people are beginning to realize what tolling means, we're getting blowback and that was the reason to reconsider," Gerend said.

PSRC plans for future projects so they qualify for federal funding.

By the end of the year, the council could approve an update to the 2040 plan that removes the vision of widespread highway tolls and instead relies more on a pay-by-mile road usage charge.

The state will test pay-by-mile next year, an idea largely billed as a way to replace gas tax revenue as cars grow more efficient.

Now, the emerging vision at PSRC suggests that someday the state might raise a road usage charge even more to bring in around another $40 billion for transportation projects.

Other local funding sources could include sales taxes and development impact fees.

Gerend said tolls would not be eliminated entirely under the vision; they would still be used to pay for new projects.

Although Transportation 2040 is a guide for local governments, important for securing federal funding, actual policy is set by the state Legislature.

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