In Key Measure of How Voters Feel on Transpo Spending, Washington Voters To Decide On Tolls

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2011 is a light year for transit and transportation ballot measures, but one in Washington State has transportation advocates nervous.

And it's a key bellwether for how voters are feeling about spending on big transportation projects a year after midterm elections saw big gains for candidates vowing to curb spending.  Many of those candidates are now part of the powerful Tea Party caucus in Washington, which has blocked any new taxes and pushed huge spending cuts.

Sponsored by a conservative activist, Tim Eyman, the Washington ballot measure would curtail how tolls could be spent, limiting toll collections for only the specific project being tolled.   The measure would also halt variable tolling, seen as a key tool by transportation planners to ease congestion at peak times, but seen as inherently unfair by the measure's sponsors, who tout the measure by saying "Tolls do not vary.  They are the same 24/7 and everyone pays."

Measure 1125  would also bar the expansion of Seattle's light rail across the I-90 bridge over Lake Washington, which was approved by a ballot measure last year.

According to the 'Yes on 1125'  homepage, the measure "stands up for the 97 percent of us who chose to drive everyday."

The measure has opponents trying to cough up that chicken-bone, and furiously fundraising.  So far, Microsoft (based in Washington) employees, including Bill Gates himself, have contributed $700,000 to fund more than 2 million worth of television ads to block the proposal.

The Seattle City Council recently voted 9-0 to oppose the measure, arguing it would excessive drain funding for key transportation projects.

Proponents have far fewer resources, but the "I'm Mad As Hell But Not Going To Take it Anymore"-inspired measure is so far even in the poll.

The vote next week comes as Washington, DC politicians are grappling with how to fund the transportation bill.  The results could be used as ammo by either side in an argument about how transpo should be funded -- and how big its dreams should be.