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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

‘No’ on I-1125

Initiative threatens road and bridge projects, would kill jobs and increase congestion

The Columbian
Published: October 12, 2011, 5:00pm

Transportation affects everyone. Even if you never left your home, the goods and products you consume depend on transportation. Your relatives, neighbors and friends need a dependable transportation system, and our state has a pretty good one.

Initiative 1125 on the Nov. 8 ballot threatens a greater harm to that transportation system than any proposal we’ve seen in years. If passed, it would block transportation projects statewide, increase traffic congestion and eliminate thousands of jobs. Locally, I-1125, if passed, would delay the new Interstate 5 bridge project and increase its cost.

For these and many other reasons, The Columbian joins a diverse group including transportation experts, business leaders, labor organizations and environmentalists in recommending a “No” vote on Initiative 1125.

This inedible soufflé was cooked up by professional initiative chef Tim Eyman and leavened with expensive dough: a $1 million donation from Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman Jr.

The worst of I-1125’s many flaws would be its mandate for Washington to do something that not one of the 50 state does: politicize the setting of tolls. All states correctly place that function in the hands of experts in transportation, finance, planning and management. In Washington state, we have an independent, bipartisan commission that sets tolls. Eyman and Freeman, however, want that job turned over to the Legislature, to be ground up in the partisan turbines of politics.

Here’s how that absurd strategy would create a fiscal catastrophe. Independent bonding agencies would be reluctant to bond large projects if financing decisions are made by politicians. State Treasurer Jim McIntire has said this would make such bonds “prohibitively expensive,” according to a story in The Herald of Everett.

We think roads and bridges are expensive enough already. We also think part of their cost should be borne by those who use the roads and bridges. That’s why we accept tolls as an uncomfortable but necessary strategy for funding transportation projects.

And those road and bridge projects are not going away, especially in a growing state. Without the limited use of tolls, that revenue will have to come from somewhere else, i.e. all taxpayers. Tolls (and the gas tax, for that matter) keep Washingtonians from having to use systemwide tax structures for transportation funding.

If you dislike tolls, you’re not alone. We’re not too fond of them, either. But even more unacceptable is for someone in Clark County to have to pay for a new floating bridge in Seattle because no tolls were imposed on that project. And remember, when tolls are applied on a new Interstate 5 bridge, nonresident through drivers from distant places will share in our tolling burden.

The lingering economic crisis demands that Washingtonians make difficult decisions about transportation funding. Pushing those decisions aside or abdicating that duty to partisan politicians in Olympia is irresponsible. That’s why we agree with an editorial in The Seattle Times: “Without tolls, the biggest projects either would not get built, or would guzzle all the other road money” that today is properly spread to projects around the state.

Don’t be charmed by the snake oil in the Initiative 1125 bottle. It’s just another ingredient in a recipe scratched out by Chef Eyman and his Bellevue developer buddy.