The Bell Tolls Over Seattle, but Not for Most Commuters

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon

It would appear as though the price of admission to traverse the longest floating bridge in the world on a daily basis has had quite the impact on commuting patterns in Seattle. A study to be issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation this week – barring another tragicomic display by the powers that be, of course – has uncovered that use of the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge – Evergreen Point (colloquially known as the 520 floating bridge) has gone down by half since tolling began near the end of 2011.

The tolls, ranging from $0 for late-night and early morning travelers, to $5.25 for those rush-hour commuters who prefer to pay the man by mail, have caused 9 out of 10 drivers to find another path to work and play across Lake Washington. The majority of those avoiding the toll have annual incomes of $50,000 and under, while those making $200,000 and above (and are no doubt enjoying the more open road) pay little if any mind to being tolled.

On the upside, more commuters are using mass transit due to the tolls – which were enacted as one of the five DOT demonstration projects under their $1 billion Urban Partnerships Congestion Initiative – with around 45 percent preferring to “ ride the wave” than drown in a congestion pricing tsunami.

The information provided by the study will be considered by Olympia, Wash.’s best and brightest this week as they debate on whether to set tolls upon the other two floating bridges (both carrying east- and westbound traffic on I-90) over Lake Washington to help fund the construction of the 520’s replacement, set to open in 2014.

Photo credit: Oran Viriyincy/ Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Cameron Aubernon
Cameron Aubernon

Seattle-based writer, blogger, and photographer for many a publication. Born in Louisville. Raised in Kansas. Where I lay my head is home.

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4 of 71 comments
  • Beerboy12 Beerboy12 on Oct 17, 2013

    Lake Washington is very deep, I believe.

  • Tkmedia Tkmedia on Oct 18, 2013

    dont know about seattle, but usually very deep water or the soil at bottom of the water is unsuitable.

  • Z9 Z9 on Oct 18, 2013

    Per-mile taxes might be fairer than tolls and gas taxes. If you have a car that gets very good mileage, you pay a lot less in gas taxes than someone with a car that gets terrible mileage to go the same distance. Indeed gas tax revenues are decreasing as the fleet average of gasoline consumption goes down. Typically people who can afford new cars (paying lower gas taxes per mile driven) are wealthier than people driving old cars, so over time the gas tax is becoming even more regressive than it already is. In Washington state, owners of electric cars pay $100 a year to compensate for lost gas taxes. Distance traveled is both a public benefit and a public burden. The burden involves, among other things, wearing out roadways and creating traffic congestion, which ultimately leads to road construction. Driving also causes pollution, accidents, noise, and urban sprawl. And new roads take productive farmland out of service. Certain roads or bridges cost more to repair when they wear out or expand when they become inadequate. Other roads are worse for society when people use them. Roads with higher costs could be priced higher if one wanted, either through techniques such as congestion pricing -- something that seems to work in London -- or supplementary toll booths placed every couple of miles, as is done on the highways in Japan. Pretty soon everyone will pay per mile for their car insurance. I predict it will seem ridiculous not to do it. Why not pay for road use the same way?

  • Amca Amca on Oct 20, 2013

    Ha! I remember when the Evergreen Point Bridge was a 35 cent toll. Everyone was delighted when they finally retired the toll. It was a thrill to whiz past that wide spot in the road where the toll gates were.