Is 520 Tolling Good for the Bellevue Arts Community?

I was in a focus group the other day about the future of the “east King County arts community.” And someone was talking about how the major problem is that too many eastside residents look to Seattle for their cultural activities…but that it might change when tolling starts on 520. It took me a second, but I quickly understood that what she was saying is that the extra cost of crossing the bridge would be a disincentive to travel which creates an incentive to spend your Saturday night locally. Furthermore, because there isn’t a fully vital arts community yet on the eastside, economic theory would tell us that folks would be willing to invest in the short term to build that infrastructure if it saves them money in the long term.

I love the concept, and not only because I’m a nerdy economics guy. It has a great parallel to something I was talking about way back in the good old days of $4 gas about shrinking the global supply chain.

The reason we have outsourcing is because it’s cheaper to make things overseas and then ship them back here than it is to make them here. But if you raise either cost of labor (and other costs of doing business) overseas or the cost of transportation, that calculus can shift and maybe manufacturing jobs move back home. Land use folks would make the same argument about how cheap gas created suburbs and sprawl, and higher fuel prices encourages transit-oriented development and density.

I don’t know whether tolling is going to significantly affect non-commute travel (I imagine it will and I imagine that plenty of folks can show me the models), but it will be fascinating to see if tolling 520 directly leads to the completion of Performing Arts Center Eastside.

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