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Gov. Gregoire announces funding proposal to replace 520 Evergreen Point Bridge

For Immediate Release: January 10, 2008

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire today announced a funding proposal that includes legislation authorizing tolling on the SR520 Evergreen Point Bridge to help pay for replacement of the 44-year-old structure.

Joining Gov. Gregoire was King County Executive Ron Sims, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger and civic leaders from both sides of Lake Washington.

Citing safety as one of her top transportation priorities, Gregoire noted that the current SR520 bridge is four years older than the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota last year, and it is nearly at the end of its useful life. The bridge is carrying 80 percent more traffic than it was designed to carry, and is in danger during an earthquake or major windstorm.

Transportation engineers rate bridges on a zero-to-one hundred scale to determine when they should be replaced. A rating of 50 means a bridge is recommended for replacement. The 520 bridge is rated below 50, at 44, the governor said.

“The bridge is aging, and as any driver knows – it is also slow and crowded,” she said. “The time for action is now. We need to step up and fix this problem for the sake of Washington families and a vibrant economy that depends so much on this vital link.”

The new bridge will cost approximately $4 billion to complete. Half of the funding to pay for the new bridge will come from existing state and federal sources, while another half of the funding will be paid by bridge users through tolling.

If the financing plan is approved, a new bridge would be completed by 2018.

Under her tolling proposal, motorists could pay lower tolls during off-peak hours. Other cities with variable tolling have experienced a major reduction in congestion. The legislature will approve the implementation during the 2009 session.

“If it is cheaper to travel at a less congested time, drivers may be likely to change the timing of their trip, or if they have to travel at a peak time they may be more likely to carpool or use transit,” she said.

The current SR520 floating bridge was originally financed by tolls from its opening in 1963 until 1979. The governor said tolls are working well on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and commuters are dramatically reducing their travel times.

In addition to reducing commute times and overall trips, tolling will allow business to better plan and save money through more reliable trip times.

"The 520 bridge is a vital economic link between the east and west sides of Lake Washington, and the Governor is to be commended for taking action to pay for a new bridge with no new taxes," said Sims. "I believe variable tolling combined with improved transit and other options such as telecommuting, will cause people to change their driving habits cutting commute times and pollution while increasing congestion relief.”

Sims said variable tolling has proven itself as a tool to help reduce overall fuel consumption and global warming pollution.

"Half the climate pollution in this region comes from cars and trucks. It is the biggest challenge we face in turning the tides on global warming," Nickels said. "We must find ways to encourage people to think about the trips they take -- and to not drive alone. Tolling will better reflect the true costs of driving."

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