Tri-county congestion pricing planned.
In 1993, Washington state lawmakers approved Public-Private Initiatives in Transportation (PPIT), a bill authorizing the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to test the feasibility of financing transportation facilities through public-private partnerships. When the bill was signed into law, WSDOT began the task of selecting six private proposals for negotiation, environmental review and implementation.
Among the projects chosen for implementation was the introduction of congestion pricing in portions of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. Congestion pricing helps moderate traffic by varying the cost of driving in much the same way that telephone rates vary with time of day. An electronic toll system charges motorists a per-mile fee for highway use, and, to encourage drivers to shift non-essential trips to other routes, times or modes of travel, the highest fees are charged during rush hour.
Phase I of the Washington project will begin with the sale of excess capacity on existing underused high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. Drivers will be able to travel alone in the HOV lanes by paying the permile fee, which could range from 10 to 15 cents per mile during peak periods, while buses and carpools will continue to use the lanes at no cost.
In the program’s second phase, United Infrastructure, the Bellevue, Wash.-based firm selected to assist in the project, will finance, build and operate portions of the area’s carpool lane system. Some 200 miles of HOV lanes — worth an estimated $900 million — are on the drawing board but remain unfunded.
To facilitate the conversion to congestion pricing, officials are issuing windshield-mounted transponders to monitor highway use. Roadside antennae will automatically record fees as cars travel at highway speed, eliminating delays traditionally associated with toll booths. Area visitors will also have access to transponders,
Prior to implementation of Phase I, representatives of the partnership must negotiate an agreement defining their specific responsibilities. Once that agreement is signed, the partners will begin working with public agencies and private organizations to gather technical, environmental, institutional and financial data related to the congestion pricing concept. Pending results of those studies, Phase I of the project will begin next year.