Well they are finally done. The Washington Legislature has adjourned at long last, after 176 days. It was the longest session in history, and lasted past the Oregon legislature’s adjournment for the first time ever. They were in session so long that they will be back to work in almost the exact number of days they were in session. And what did we as riders get from this marathon of inactivity? A significant lightening of our wallets, and very little positive news I’m afraid to report.
The legislature did manage, after several years of negotiations, to pass a comprehensive transportation package, and there is a lot to cheer for in that. Our “green” Governor is prohibited from instituting a low carbon fuel standard without legislative support. There will be some significant road improvements for one – expansion of I-405 from Bellevue to Renton, and the new North/South freeway in Spokane, and widening of I-5 past JBLM in Pierce County are all included. But that does come at a cost.
The gas tax will go up twelve cents. The first seven cents on the day this issue of Quick Throttle comes out, August 1st, and the remaining five cents on July 1, 2016. In addition, the “weight fee” portion of your license plate renewal will go up an additional $15 for a total of $25 for motorcycles starting July 1, 2016, raising another $10 in 2022 for a total of $35 in weight fees for motorcycles annually.
And finally, for those of us who are fortunate or unfortunate enough to reside in the Sound Transit taxing area we will be asked on a future ballot whether we want to pony up additional funds for that agency – including an Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) of .8% or $80 per $10,000 of vehicle value (roughly $160 per year for the average $20,000 Harley). Plus if you are a homeowner, an additional .25 on each $1,000 of valuation, or about $75 on a $300,000 home. The MVET and property tax are not sure things – they will be on the ballot in the fall of 2016, and could fail – but we all know that the majority of Western Washington residents love to approve higher taxes, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they passed.
All this means in the next two years it’s going to cost a lot more to enjoy our rides. And if the funds are used as they are intended, we could see some slight improvement in the roads and traffic here. But it’s an expensive solution to the problem for sure, and we can only hope that our elected officials actually spend the money as they say they will now.
In the mean time, the good folks at Washington DOT still have managed to overly complicate a simple tolling process to the point of absurdity. Later this year the new High Occupancy Toll Lanes (HOT) will go into effect on I-405 north of Bellevue up to the merge with I-5 in Lynnwood. By federal law motorcycles are allowed to travel in HOV and HOT lanes toll free. However, WADOT has purchased a tolling system that will take a picture of a license plate and bill the owner for use of the toll lane unless the owner has a Good To Go prepaid toll account. And this includes motorcycle riders, even though we won’t be billed, we still have to have a pass.
It’s an oxymoron for sure – you have to purchase a toll account to ride toll free in the supposedly free for motorcycle toll lanes. I know, try to explain that one right? But that’s what is going to happen later on this year when the new HOT lanes that replaced regular free HOV lanes on I-405 are opened up. Riders who have an existing Good To Go pass because they regularly ride on the Tacoma Narrows of SR-520 bridges will not need to get a new pass for the I-405 HOT lanes, and when they ride in them they will not be billed.
However, riders who do not have a Good To Go pass and who want to ride in the HOT lanes on I-405 will need to get one. And while this may appear to violate the federal law regarding free access to HOT lanes by riders, according to Congresswoman Susan Delbene who represents the area in congress, it doesn’t violate the law as riders will not be billed for using the lanes and the requirement to purchase a pass is a minimal inconvenience according to the Federal Department of Transportation.
The more simple fix would be to program the system to ignore motorcycle licenses since they are distinct and different from other vehicles, but that’s not the approach Washington has taken, and similar program is up and running in Georgia, requiring motorcycle riders to get a transponder to ride free in the HOT lanes. So best get used to this one too folks.
However, to their credit, WADOT is offering motorcycle riders a free pass on a first come first served basis. So if you think you are going to want to use the I-405 HOT lanes you may want to look into getting one. All you have to do is live, work, or play in King or Snohomish County and ride on I-405, and take a short survey on their web page at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MotorcyclePass. These are free “while they last”, which means there is a limited number, so if you want one, best get online soon.
In addition, the DOT says they “may have” another option for riders who only ride I-405 and don’t want to set up a Good To Go account, but it’s too soon to tell. It likely would be a pass that the system can read, but will recognize not to bill for the toll on I-405, but would receive in the mail a bill for other tolled roads like the SR-520 and Tacoma Narrows bridges. DOT asks folks interested in that kind of a pass to email firstname.lastname@example.org and you will be notified prior to the start of the HOT lanes on I-405 if it becomes available. And lastly, not to confuse the matter even more, for now you won’t need a Good to Go pass to ride on the SR-167 HOT lanes as that uses an entirely different toll reading system.
But hey, at least the children in the legislature have gone home for the year, and maybe they can teach WADOT how to differentiate between motorcycle plates and car plates. I know my 5 year old nephew can.
Gary can be reached at email@example.com and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com