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How much it will cost drivers to use Seattle’s new SR 99 tunnel

A graphic depicting the north end of the tunnel once completed. (WSDOT)

After months of deliberations, the Washington State Transportation Commission has settled on a tolling plan for Seattle’s new SR 99 tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

The commission voted unanimously in favor of the tolling option at its Tuesday morning meeting. It will charge between $1 and $2.25 depending on the time of day, and week.

The tunnel could cost around $1 during weekends and overnight. It could cost $1; $1.25 to $1.50 during the morning commute; and up to $2.25 for the peak rush hours between 3-6 p.m.

In short:

  • Toll rates range from $1.50 – $2.25 during peak travel times and $1 overnight.
  • The midday toll rate is $1.25.
  • Up to $2.25 for the peak rush hours between 3-6 p.m.
  • There are four different toll rates over six time periods on weekdays.
  • Beginning in July 2022, toll rates increase 3 percent, every three years for all days of the week.

Commissioners said that they wanted tunnel tolls that would be high enough to raise money, but low enough that drivers would not avoid them by flooding onto surface streets. The tolls are needed to cover the costs of constructing the tunnel. While the commission voted on the method of tolling, the date the tolls will become effective is still up in the air. That is because the exact date the SR 99 tunnel will open is unknown.

What is known is that Seattle’s tunnel will open in early 2019. The Alaskan Way Viaduct will close on Jan. 11, 2019, prompting a six-week traffic disruption before the new tunnel can open. Construction to connect the highway with the tunnel’s new ramps will begin at that time.

The tunnel toll is not the only cost that drivers in downtown Seattle will have to contend with. The city is also considering congestion pricing, which would place tolls on downtown streets. The goal would be to cut down on the number of cars passing through the core.

Councilmember Mike O’Brien has said that tolls on surface streets could help deter people from avoiding the tunnel toll by passing through downtown. Mayor Jenny Durkan also obtained grant funding to study how to implement congestion pricing in Seattle. She has said she wants the tolling method up and running within her first term. Companies such as Uber and Lyft have also come out in favor of congestion pricing in Seattle.

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