Eyman's tolling initiative too close to call


by Associated Press


Posted on November 9, 2011 at 8:08 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 9 at 6:14 PM

OLYMPIA, Wash -- A Tim Eyman initiative that would disrupt Washington state's use of tolling and prohibit light rail from crossing the Interstate 90 bridge across Lake Washington was narrowly trailing in election returns Tuesday night.

Early Wednesday morning, less than 51 percent of voters were opposing Initiative 1125 in early results tallied from 1.1 million votes; 49 percent approved it. It was the only statewide ballot measure that was at risk of losing, sullied by broad opposition to the measure -- from Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire to Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.

Eyman said that no matter the final tally, the campaign had made tolls a radioactive issue for lawmakers.

"I think they're walking on the thinnest of thin ice," Eyman said. "It's hard to view this thing as anything else but a very successful effort."

Eyman's plan would force the Legislature to approve tolls, instead of allowing a commission to decide. State officials fear that the rules would scare away investors who won't want to purchase bonds backed by tolls that could be mired in a political process.

That could take away a key funding source for projects such as the Highway 520 bridge replacement across Lake Washington and a new Columbia River bridge connecting Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore. The state has been looking toward that revenue source because gas tax revenue is plateauing, and much of it is already dedicated to specific projects.

The measure also includes a major provision that would halt light rail from running across the Interstate 90 bridge -- something that voters in the Seattle area previously approved. Eyman's initiative campaign was largely funded by Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, who has battled against light rail proposals for years.

An opposition group, Keep Washington Rolling, declared victory in the race.

"Once again, voters around the state have rejected another reckless Tim Eyman threat to vital transportation projects in their part of the state," the group wrote in a statement.