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Originally published February 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 13, 2009 at 9:38 AM

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Early one-way toll on 520 proposed

A bill that would allow one-way tolls of up to $3.25 on Highway 520 starting next January was introduced Thursday by House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — A bill that would allow tolls of up to $3.25 in each direction on Highway 520 starting next January was introduced Thursday by House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn.

This is a long-anticipated bill intended to help make up a shortfall in funding to replace the 520 floating bridge, which engineers say could collapse in an earthquake or major storm.

House Bill 2211 allows for, but doesn't require, early variable tolling of the bridge with a peak rate of $3.25 starting next year. After the bridge is completed, the bill calls for one-way tolls of up to $3.80.

The Legislature projects the tolling proposal would generate about $1.2 billion in bond revenue for the multibillion-dollar project.

The measure does not call for tolling the Interstate 90 bridge over Lake Washington. "It isn't on the table and it won't be," Clibborn said.

Tolling I-90 would unfairly force drivers using that bridge to help pay for something they're not using, she said.

Clibborn said the proposal should provide enough money to complete the bridge and highway work on the east side of the span, but not enough to finish construction on the west side.

It's uncertain how Clibborn's proposal will fare in the House or the Senate.

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler said leadership hasn't had a chance to discuss the bill. Senate Transportation Committee Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, declined to comment.

However, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, chairman of the Senate Democratic caucus, blasted the bill, saying its projections for toll revenue from 520 "are wildly optimistic."

Murray said he would push hard this session to pass legislation that requires both bridges to be tolled. The reason is simple, he said: "All the trips will start to disappear off Highway 520 and will go to Interstate 90."

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, would not state a position, but did say "studies show it's impractical to toll 520 without tolling I-90."

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Clibborn isn't deterred by the concerns. "I plan to get it through this session. I didn't (introduce) it for the fun of it."

Highway 520 runs through District 43, which both Murray and House Speaker Frank Chopp represent. The district covers a swath of Seattle that includes Capitol Hill, the University District and Montlake.

The state currently has about $1.4 billion in state and federal funding to replace the 520 bridge, which was built in the 1960s. With the projected tolling revenue, the state would have about $2.6 billion.

Clibborn said that would be enough money to complete the floating bridge, including the pontoons, as well as Highway 520 work on the east side of Lake Washington. All that work is expected to cost about $2.5 billion.

That would leave some money, she said, for working on the highway on the west side of the lake in Seattle. Clibborn also speculated that tolls could end up bringing in more money than projected. Still, there would not be enough to complete the job.

State estimates for completing Highway 520 work just on the west side range from $2 billion to $4 billion depending on the highway configuration.

The three leading options being considered are a larger Montlake interchange plus a second Montlake Boulevard drawbridge, a high exit bridge over Union Bay to Husky Stadium and a tunneled exit beneath Montlake Cut.

Clibborn said it's possible to move ahead with building a new bridge and work on the east side of the lake, while waiting for a solution to emerge on the west side.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or agarber@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company


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