State Sen. Tim Sheldon unveiled a bill Tuesday that would block any city from implementing tolls without permission from the Legislature. He acknowledges the bill is unlikely to pass in a Legislature controlled by Democrats.
A proposal to charge a toll to enter downtown Seattle is in its earliest stages, with an initial study not yet complete, no specific policy plans and any potential action still years in the future.
But one state lawmaker would like to stop it in its tracks.
Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, unveiled a bill Tuesday that would block any city from implementing tolls without permission from the Legislature.
The bill, SB 5104, is, by Sheldon’s own admission, unlikely to pass in a Legislature controlled by Democrats.
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Mayor Jenny Durkan announced last spring her intention to look at tolling downtown streets as a way to ease traffic congestion and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The last two city budgets have dedicated a total of $1.2 million to studying how such a plan might be implemented.
The city is paying consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard to model tolling scenarios and study pricing tools and options, potential business impacts and potential impacts on low-income travelers.
“Congestion pricing can be an effective strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving mobility,” Durkan’s administration wrote in her budget proposal, citing cities like London, Stockholm and Milan, where congestion pricing has been both popular and successful. No American city has implemented a broad tolling program of the type Seattle is considering, although other cities are also looking at it.
As the law currently stands, Seattle could launch a tolling system on city streets without the permission of the Legislature, but it would almost certainly require the approval of city voters.
Sheldon, of Potlatch, Mason County, the longest-serving member of the Legislature, said he wasn’t opposed to tolls on individual roadways — he supports them on the Highway 99 tunnel and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge — but objects to tolling a swath of a city.
“Do we really want a society where only the rich can afford to drive?” he said.
He objected to the city passing policies that would affect people outside the city.
“I wouldn’t get to vote, visitors wouldn’t get to vote,” Sheldon said. “It’s a city that the state needs; we need the services that are there.”
Durkan’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Sheldon’s legislation.