BELLEVUE—The drive to work is going to get a lot more expensive for thousands of drivers. Tolling on the 520 bridge is expected to start in the spring, but some argue $7.00 a day is too high. And then there are those questioning if the 520 Commission even has the authority to set toll rates.
Initiative 1053 was passed last month and says a two thirds majority in the legislature is necessary to raise taxes. It also states that a simple majority in the legislature must approve fee increases.
Tuesday night, drivers gathered in Bellevue's City Council Chambers to give their input about the proposed tolls. The proposed toll structure is complex. There are different rates for drivers who establish a prepaid account and those who are billed. There are additional fees for vehicles with extra axles.
Several people shared their concerns about the fees with the commission. At peak commute times, with the prepaid good to go account, the committee is proposing a rate of $3.50. They're recommending $5.00 for drivers without accounts. They plan to take pictures of their license plates and mail them tickets.
For some commuters it could mean more than $1,800 extra each year. The commission said buses and vanpools will be exempt. But some say that's not an option for everyone. Todd Woosley said they expect to spend about $1500 each year. "For my wife; it would take four buses and two and half hours to get to work so that's not a feasible alternative" Woosley said.
Initiative 1053 author Tim Eyman called the meeting "a joke". Eyman believes the commission has no business deciding toll rates and said voters passed it for a reason. "You can't have un-elected bureaucrats making these decisions or else they'll make it $10 dollars round trip" Eyman explained. "Elected representatives are not going to be that suicidal; they're not going to impose such a fee on people in a tough economy."
State Senator Pam Roach agrees and asked the Attorney General's office for an opinion. "People who increase the fees should be accountable at the polls and that's not what happens when a commission does this" Roach said.
The AG's office should have their opinion ready in a few weeks. They hope to start collecting money on the bridge this spring.