Washington State GOP Claims a Scalp in the Name of Socialized Roads

Republicans in the Washington State Senate are sending a message: Don’t mess with our socialized highways. To show they’re serious about subsidizing roads, they ended the tenure of Washington DOT chief Lynn Peterson.

Lynn Peterson was ousted as head of Washington DOT last week by Senate Republicans for presiding over an effective, but unpopular tolling program. Photo via Seattle Transit Blog
Lynn Peterson was ousted as head of Washington DOT last week by Senate Republicans for presiding over an effective but unpopular tolling program. Photo via Seattle Transit Blog

Senate Republicans used their confirmation authority to give Peterson “one week notice” that she would be fired, as one Democrat put it.

Josh Feit at Publicola explains:

[State Senator Andy] Hill said it was “nothing personal” but the senate needed to use its “blunt instrument” (its confirmation powers) to “impose accountability” on an agency that was responsible for imposing unpopular tolls on I-405. “I have no confidence that this agency is in any position to fix the problems it has,” he said about an agency he accused of unfairly executing its tolling program.

Dan Ryan at Seattle Transit Blog says the tolls are actually working pretty well:

Notwithstanding its unpopularity with some SOV drivers (at least those who don’t use the lanes), it has been rather successful in managing traffic. Travel times in both the express and general purpose lanes are better, saving drivers 14 minutes in the express lanes and 7 minutes southbound in the regular lanes. Bus riders have seen improved speed and reliability. Community Transit riders save six minutes at peak times, while Metro riders are saving eight minutes. After just a few months, ridership is up 4% on CT, and 6% on Metro routes in the corridor.

But there have been difficulties for some drivers in the general purpose lanes. Northbound GP-lane drivers in PM peak benefit less, as improved speeds south of SR 522 are offset by a difficult merge where five lanes converge to just three. (Ironically, the added HOT lane south of SR 522 gets drivers to the choke-point more quickly exacerbating pressures there). Drivers using the highway for short distances complain about infrequent access points to the HOT lanes. Elsewhere, highway configuration changes have moved congestion points around, creating a perception that traffic is bad in places where it previously wasn’t.

In a separate post, Seattle Transit Blog’s Zach Shaner writes that although the DOT didn’t always make great decisions under Peterson, her firing is not good news for transportation progress in the region. The revolt against road pricing by the supposed free-market champions in the Senate is a spectacular example of hypocrisy, he writes:

Using prices as market signals to manage demand should be textbook Republican economics, but it would seem that clear performance data is no match for angry constituent anecdotes in an election year.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Human Transit says planners need to consider “who’s not in the room” in order to arrive at the best decisions. Broken Sidewalk says a New Urbanist development outside Louisville is “teaching the suburbs how to walk again.” And Streets.mn makes an argument for driving 20 miles per hour on Tuesdays.

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