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Letter: Where's the Precedent to Toll I-90 to Pay for SR 520?

In a letter shared with Patch, Claus Jensen asks Daniel Mathis of the Washington Division of the Federal Highway Administration for a legal precedent that would allow I-90 to be tolled for the SR 520 floating bridge.

(Ed. Note: In a letter shared with Patch, Claus Jensen asks Daniel Mathis of the Washington Division of the Federal Highway Administration for a legal precedent that would allow I-90 to be tolled for the SR 520 floating bridge.)

Dear Mr. Mathis,

As I am sure you are aware, the WASDOT is considering requesting FHWA authority ( or has already requested authority) to toll I-90 between I-405 and I-5, with the resulting revenue to be used for the construction of a WA state road project.

In this connection I have been unable to find any legal precedent for tolling an Interstate Highway to pay for anything other than improvements to the Interstate Highway itself. Apart from the "Tollroads" that were grandfathered into the Interstate Highway System back in 1956 and the conversion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes on a few interstates, there seem to have been no tolling added to the system since then.

In view of the above, and the fact that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has testified at a public hearing that he is opposed to any tolling of the Interstate System, it seems strange that the WASDOT seems so certain that the FHWA will grant it this unprecedented authority to toll I-90 to pay for the construction of items like a "Lid" over the Montlake Cut (on a section of SR 520 that is not even tolled!).

And to permit any municipality or state to impose tolls on an Interstate highway to pay for shortfall in construction and other local budgetary problems would seem to open "Pandora's Box" for all kinds of financial shenenigans.

In closing, I ask you kindly to inform me whether you have granted or will grant this authority to WASDOT and if so on what specific legal basis this will be or is based.

As WASDOT has scheduled a public meetings on Mercer Island on January 29, time is of the essence in order for me to prepare my questions to WASDOT and make sure that I have my facts straight.

Your early reply will be appreciated.

Thank you in advance,

Claus V. Jensen

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Gordon January 30, 2013 at 02:38 AM
There is no legal precedent to charge a use tax on an Interstate highway and then use the tax revenue for state use. First of all, it is unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause. If states are allowed to charge a use tax on the Interstate passing through all or part of their state (i.e. toll road) and then use the tax for state highways (or other state purposes) then it interferes with free flow of commerce, which is unconstitutional. If the Fed allows tolling I-90 in all likelihood WA will lose the Federal funds to maintain I-90 as the tolls from I-90 would need to be used to maintain that bridge. The revenue cannot be diverted to a state highway project. In San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, which is an Interstate, is tolled but the revenue goes towards maintaining and expanding that bridge. The revenue does not go towards maintaining the Golden Gate Bridge, which is a state bridge like the 520. Another example is that then WA or OR could ask to toll the I-5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland...who gets the $ for state use, WA or OR? Oh, wait, WA likes to toll bridges in both directions...again, unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause because it interferes with free flow of commerce.

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