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New 520 Tolls: A question, not the DoT’s favorite
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New 520 Tolls: A question, not the DoT’s favorite

New 520 Tolls: A question, not the DoT’s favorite

Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to be very hard to get a certain piece of information about the new tolls being installed on the Highway 520 bridge over Lake Washington. 

What will the collection-efficiency be?  What will it be specifically in the 520 case, and what is it for tolling generally?   By collection-efficiency I mean, what percentage of the money the public pays out in tolls will make it back to the project?

I’ve been casually monitorinig the Times’ articles on the subject and have seen nothing.  I attended a planning meeting of the DoT and asked the question and was referred to promotional literature.  I can ‘t seem to find it with Google.

I ask because that other revenue generator that has come in for such derision lately, the Gas Tax, has a stellar efficiency in the high nineties.  (Think about it: It’s figured in at the pump, it’s hard to cheat or avoid, the gas station does the computational work and paperwork free for the Dept. of Revenue, and the money is in hand.)

By contrast the tolling on 520 involves all kinds of high tech, cameras to photograph cars, transponders that you have to go get, all kinds bureaucracy, the creation of a new class of outlaws, and the cost and revenues of prosecuting them. It’s efficiency must be in the low range of almost any tax.

You’d think that now that Depts of Transportations everywhere are denigrating the gas tax and touting the beauty of tolls, this information would be of interest to the rest of us.

Great Blue Heron over the 520 Bridge from Union Bay, Seattle

A Great Blue Heron flies over the 520 Bridge, viewed from the Union Bay Natural Area in Seattle. Photo by Ed Newbold

I ask because I’m a believer in the gas tax.  It’s a true user-fee, and in these days of concern about pollution, it’s an externality fee.  It’s not broken.  The DoTs don’t like it simply because they can’t get the electorate to raise it.

If the people don’t want to raise the gas tax, that means something.  The DoTs should accept the limit and live within their means, reducing highway projects to make sensible use of the money that’s actually available to them.  Neither the Viaduct tunnel nor 520 is anywhere near funded.  They both need to be reconfigured into something that the DoT can actually afford.

PS.I am working on getting the blog feature to actually work so people can post a comment. My web designer tells me we need to talk first, though, so maybe not til tomorrow.  Thanks for your patience, I’m interested if anyone knows anything about this subject.

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