One American Citizen

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Thursday, January 30, 2020

Toll Lanes to Help Traffic or Create Revenue.

     Nearly every state has them, toll lanes. For those that have not seen them, they are lanes on a highway that you must pay to use if you are a single occupancy vehicle. Pricing is generally dependent on the traffic meaning if traffic is light, you pay less, if traffic is heavy, you pay more. These lanes are put in under the guise to help traffic by allowing those who want to pay a way out of it. For this post, I am going to focus on what is going on in my home state of Washington.
     In Washington, we have two major corridors that include toll lanes, Highway 167 and Interstate 405. The tolls on these roads range from $0.50 to $10. Traffic in the Seattle area has been continuously getting worse because of the growing tech industry and the lack of affordable housing. Home prices have gone up so much because of this boom that people are moving 30 miles away or more from their job to find a home they can afford. To put it in perspective, I had to drive 32 miles to my job and it would take me two and a half hours each way. The State decided the remedy for it was to add HOT lanes, or High Occupancy Toll lanes. If you have two or more people they are free to use but if you are by yourself, you better break out your wallet and it can cost up to $20 dollars a day.
     I couldn't understand why they would put a lane in that would only be used by a few vehicles and not just add another lane. It makes more sense to let more cars in to this lane for free than to charge people and have less cars in the lane. I decided to look into the reasoning and came to a disturbing conclusion. The newest lanes, the I-405 toll lanes, generated nearly $100 million dollars in revenue with $66.8 million of that being profit. Now, as it is right now, that profit must be used for improvements or debt repayment on the I-405 corridor but I smell something fishy going on.
    These lanes are obviously a cash cow for the state and that poses a problem. What is the incentive to make traffic better if you get more money when traffic is bad? There isn't. The state now has a financial incentive to keep the traffic as bad as possible to keep the price at $10 for as long as possible. Whats worse is they want to put these lanes on many more miles of roadway in the Seattle area and are even talking about raising the maximum toll price under the guise of reducing traffic.
     So here is my prediction. As of now the profit must remain in the I-405 project, but who is to say that lawmakers don't change the rules in 5 or 10 years. They could easily change the rules to divert that money into other highway projects because the federal government only requires that the profit be used on Title 23 projects. If the numbers stay consistent, by 2025, the lanes will have produced $150 million in profit and that's just one set of toll lanes. What if they toll the entire stretch of I-5 and put revenue in the same account? Its a scary thought that the state is using our suffering to fund their projects.
     So why do I assume the worst? There is one specific reason and its appalling and damning. When these lanes were authorize by the legislature, it was codified that these I-405 toll lanes must meet two specific goals. they are as follow (pulled directly from the original house bill):

(a) Whether the express toll lanes maintain speeds of forty-five miles per hour at least ninety percent of the time during peak periods
(e) Whether the express toll lanes generated sufficient revenue to pay for all Interstate 405 express toll lane-related operating costs

(5) If after two years of operation of the express toll lanes on Interstate 405 performance measures listed in subsection (4)(a) and (e) of this section are not being met, the express toll lanes project must be terminated as soon as practicable. 

     These lanes easily beat the revenue requirement by a long shot but they failed to meet the speed requirement. Here is where is gets appalling, when ask to terminate the toll lanes, the legislature went to the Attorney General to get legal advice to see if they could keep them. The Attorney General's opinion was that the "and" between (a) and (e) meant both OR either meaning the lanes could stay open because it met the financial requirement. We all know "and" means both. So why make that obviously bias and wrong opinion? The state doesn't want to lose the revenue from the lanes. In this decision, they have openly admitted that they know its not improving traffic as promised but since it making the state money, they stay. This is corruption at it's best and I would put money that if the metrics were reversed, they would have scrapped them.

     I'm sick of this state putting money over it's people's well being. It's time for a change

-American Citizen
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