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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

May 2, 2013 at 1:26 PM

North Seattle businesses oppose tunnel tolls

Three business groups north of the Highway 99 tunnel project called on lawmakers Wednesday to oppose tolls, which are supposed to fill a gap of up to $200 million in the $3.1 billion budget for the deep tube and interchanges.

Eugene Wasserman, president of the North Seattle Industrial Association, said he’s run out of patience with a state committee process that’s meant to propose toll revenues without causing thousands of motorists to avoid the tunnel and clog the surrounding streets.

“We went through all the scenarios, the waterfront, downtown, the Central Area, I-5. It’s a disaster,” he said. “It adds all kinds of strain on the system for nothing — $200 million, which is a small amount.”

The association, along with the Fremont Chamber of Commerce and Aurora Avenue Merchants Association, sent a letter to Senate Transportation Committee co-chair Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, House Majority Leader Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle and former port commissioner, and Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who is aligned with Republicans.

Wasserman suggests the tunnel budget gap be filled with whatever revenue plan comes out of the late May special session.  Earlier versions by Clibborn punt on the question of how to raise $200 million, but even that amount seems unattainable without diverting as many as 40 percent of drivers elsewhere, the latest models say.

The letter says in part:

The imposition of the proposed tolls would increase traffic congestion throughout Seattle, increase air pollution; force increased delays on our freight, and transit, increase noise and air pollution in the City’s new waterfront park and in a slow growth economy increase the transportation costs on low-income people.

With the legislature considering a gas and other transportation taxes we do not see any reason that the $200 million to be raised from tolls should not be included in that package.  Particularly, since there is very little in the proposed packages that benefits Seattle…

On the other hand, canceling the toll plan may cause its own political backlash. Some lawmakers outside Seattle resent the $2.6 billion in state and federal taxes already earmarked for the $3.1 billion budget for the tunnel and its interchanges, since one rationale for the four-lane tube (instead of an elevated structure) was to create local benefits,  in the form of a quieter and sunnier waterfront for Seattle. A 2009 legislative clause declared an intent to make Seattle cover cost increases, while Sen. King this year vented his “moral outrage” over the prospect of tolls failing to cover a Highway 99 budget gap.

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