News Toll the Viaduct? Not So Fast
Today, the Seattle P-I credulously reports that Gov. Christine Gregoire plans to make up an estimated $460 million shortfall in the state’s contribution to a new Alaskan Way Viaduct with tolls of $1 a trip. (Gregoire said additional funding for a tunnel, which new numbers put at $580 million-$1.9 billion more than previously estimated, would have to come from local and regional sources.) According to the P-I’s math, that works out to about $100,000 a day ($1 for each of the 105,000 cars that use the viaduct daily), “meaning $460 million could theoretically be raised in less than 13 years.” Problem solved.
But wait a minute. There’s a major problem with the P-I’s deceptively simple math. The reason the state hasn’t talked about imposing a toll on the viaduct until now is that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has already said tolls won’t produce enough money to make a difference.
From the state’s environmental impact statement (EIS) on the viaduct:
The Viaduct Project’s Draft EIS does not evaluate tolled alternatives, in part because traffic analyses and toll studies conducted early in the environmental process predicted relatively low revenues and a high propensity for diversion to other routes as tolls increased.
In other words, tolls don’t make much of a dent, especially when people can easily move to alternative routes—as in the case of the viaduct.
A Toll Feasibility Study commissioned by the state reached similar conclusions:
The relatively short distance combined with the existence of several substitute parallel routes and a lack of peak period reverse direction and off-peak period demand limits the ultimate revenue potential…
Toll diversion to other routes, modes, time of day as well as trip chaining and elimination is
expected to average from 13% to 17% across alternatives and analysis years.
Translated, that means that not only are people going to find other routes, they’re going to eliminate and combine trips (something proponents of the surface/transit alternative, incidentally, have been saying all along). Gregoire should read her own transportation department’s findings more closely: Her tolling proposal is dead on arrival.