The Washington House on Saturday approved a bill allowing the state Department of Transportation to toll express lanes on the Interstate 405 to pay for road construction.
Under the bill sponsored by Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, the revenue generated from the tolls for high occupancy vehicle lanes during rush hour traffic will go toward paying off debt service for a bond project and toward further road construction and operation.
"This is about improving mobility," Clibborn said.
The section of I-405 affected by the bill - from the conjunction with I-5 on the north end to Northeast 6th Street in Bellevue to the south - is one of the most congested roads in the area, supporters said. Creating high occupancy toll lanes, or HOT lanes, should help alleviate peak hour traffic problems, they said.
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"We aren't making people pay tolls," Clibborn said. "They have the option of going into the HOT lane and paying as a single occupant and getting (to work) on time."
The bill also requires WSDOT to set toll rates, which may differ throughout the day.
Opposition Republicans wanted to invite the private sector to partner with the state on road construction projects, and expressed concern that the bill doesn't specify whether two- or three-person vehicles would be exempt from the tolls.
The House also approved several other transportation measures, including one allowing the Department of Licensing to contract with driving schools to administer drivers' exams.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, aims to shorten wait times at DOL offices by taking the most time-intensive job from the staff.
A current pilot project allows private driving schools to administer the written portion of the driver's test; Upthegrove's bill would let the DOL extend that to the practical portion of the exam as well.
The measure also increases the time between required renewals of driver's licenses from five years to six years, a move which should further reduce waiting lines, Upthegrove said.