All tolls, all the time? Not such a good idea

Anew study has weighed in on the topic of tolls and road congestion. This one is different. It considers all tolls, all the time.

Anew study has weighed in on the topic of tolls and road congestion. This one is different. It considers all tolls, all the time.

The study comes from the Puget Sound Regional Council, which spent $3.1 million on studying and conducting the issue. A handful of people pretended such a system was in effect to see how their driving habits might change under such a scenario.

They were given a GPS system, a hypothetical bank account from which tolls would be deducted and told they could keep – in real money – what they had left after the experiment. The goal was to see if they would drive less, or at less congested times.

They did, but lots of issues remain.

The study assumed a toll cost for driving on freeways or major arterials. To avoid the tolls, some participants kept driving as much, but switched to commuting, etc. by using neighborhood streets. Not only are the same number of cars on the road, but now more of them were going by people’s homes. I don’t see this as a benefit and I don’t think parents with little kids playing in the yard will either.

The study didn’t mirror reality in another way: the participants were given a bank account. In real life, people would have to pay from their own accounts. Even if people changed some driving habits, it still will cost them more to drive. In some cases, a lot.

If you drive from Seattle to Tacoma on the freeway, you’ll the study estimates you’ll cut the 68 minute commute to 39 minutes. That’s good. Bad is that the toll is $12.43. Do that twice a day and you’ll spend an extra $24.86 a day. Do that each week and it will cost you an extra $124. A year? That’s an additional $6,448 you’ll have to shell out.

Bellevue to Renton? You could cut seven minutes on the now 26-minute commute. The cost? An extra $1,908, assuming the study’s guestimate of a $3.67 per way toll.

All of this tolling could produce an extra $87 billion over 30 years (figured in today’s dollars). The money could go to improving highways or better public transit.

know how far or how fast.”

No elected officials have called for the tolling plan yet, especially during an election, but Ron Sims is an enthusiastic booster of widespread tolls on existing roads, and we see the idea slowly taking shape in the so called “HOT lane” on highway 167, which will charge a toll for single-occupant drivers to take the HOV lane back and forth to work.

For liberal Democrats, the concept is a two-fer: a new tax on something people pay for already (through the gas tax), plus fewer people in cars, hence no need to expand 405, 167, Highway 18 or any other highway.

So there are your choices to reduce congestion. One way or the other, a very clear choice.

John Carlson hosts a daily radio program with KOMO 4’s Ken Schram each weekday at 9 AM on AM 570 KVI. He also broadcasts daily radio commentary on KOMO 1000 news. E-mail him at or