Maybe U.S. 2 can be fixed

Maybe it’s not fair to judge U.S. 2 by a five-day window, to tally the number of those injured or killed from Sept. 6 to Sept. 11 in three accidents, and to shake a fist at the fact that this keeps happening.

Maybe the accidents, in part caused by driver error, were only a momentary spike on the so-called Highway of Death, grim aberrations on otherwise pleasant mornings. Ultimately, six people were sent to the hospital and another two were killed.

Maybe this winter’s rain and snow and diminishing daylight won’t cause more accidents, hospitalizations and fatalities. Or maybe they will.

Whatever happens, everyone in Snohomish County knows that change is needed on U.S. 2. Roughly 60 people have died there since 1999. The state even has a plan, written with input from those who live along the corridor, to improve the road.

But that plan seems maddeningly out of reach.

It was released in 2007, before the bottom fell out of the economy, with a price tag of about $1 billion. It has no legitimate timeline, given the hurdles required to raise that kind of money. A reasonable best-case scenario? Decades.

So what can we do? Complain about it? Tell each other to drive safely? Haven’t we done that?

Change — at least this kind of change — costs money. There’s no way around it. The question, then, should be: Are we, as a community, as private citizens, willing to pay for change on U.S. 2?

Maybe we’re not, in which case, fine. Drive safely.

But maybe we are.

Let’s talk numbers. West of Monroe, an average of 22,500 vehicles drive on U.S. 2 every day, according to the state Department of Transportation. That comes to about 8.2 million drivers a year.

Maybe we could use those numbers to our advantage.

Maybe a $1 toll — $3 for trucks — could be put in, raising millions, with every penny dedicated to improvements on U.S. 2. Maybe the toll stop itself could be named for the highway’s victims — a memorial.

The toll wouldn’t be an out for lawmakers. They must craft a reasonable transportation bill that directs our tax dollars to state highways, U.S. 2 included.

But a toll would guarantee a steady source of funding for local projects, ensuring that U.S. 2 isn’t just competing for state dollars with Seattle, Spokane and the Tri-Cities.

Admittedly, no one likes tolls — the $5 one on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is an easy target for many. But, at the end of the day, they are common. Highways around Chicago use them. Same with New York City. People keep driving. Tolls are a part of life there.

Maybe one could save lives here.

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