SR 99 tunnel tolls could send thousands of cars onto Seattle streets

Aug 27, 2019, 5:44 AM | Updated: 9:47 am
SR 99 tunnel tolls...
Tolls begin in the SR 99 tunnel on Nov. 9, 2019. (Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio)
(Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio)

Tolls on the new Highway 99 tunnel in Seattle go active Nov. 9 at 5 a.m. So, what will that do to our commute?

WSDOT announces date for SR 99 tunnel tolling

Eighty-thousand vehicles a day have been using the SR-99 tunnel for free for nearly seven months. On Nov. 9, that trip will cost them between a $1 and $2.25, depending on the time of day and the day of the week. It will be two dollars more if they don’t have a Good to Go Pass.

I asked WSDOT’s Patty Rubstello how many of those vehicles does she expect to avoid the tunnel because of the toll.

“In a worst-case scenario, it could be up to 50 percent,” she said.

You already have a pretty good idea of what an additional 40,000 cars a day on downtown Seattle streets would do to our congestion. But that is the worst-case scenario.

The million dollar question is where those drivers who avoid 99 because of the toll are going to go, especially since Seattle only has so many north-south routes to offer.

“We have done lots of modeling and predictions to figure out where we think folks are going to go so we can react proactively,” said Seattle’s mobility director Heather Marx.

But Rubstello admitted they won’t really know for sure until the tolls begin.

“These traffic models are a bit of art and science, so a lot of it is trying to predict driver behavior,” she said. “We really need to work through these first few months and see how things shake out, and we’ll re-evaluate if we are seeing things change substantially from what our analysis was showing.”

You can expect South Lake Union and Pioneer Square to take the brunt of the diversion, since those neighborhoods are the last places you can bail before paying the toll.

Rubstello is asking the public to spend the next two months looking for alternate ways to make your commute so you have options when the tolling starts.

WSDOT aims to ease transition for coming SR 99 tunnel tolls

“We want people to be looking at what their options are, trying out transit if they haven’t before, talk about tele-working, and other options to see what will work for them,” she said.

And like the three weeks in January where we lost Highway 99 for construction, Marx is once again reminding the public that we are in this together.

“Your commute decision is a community decision,” she said. “Every individual who is making a choice about how they are going to get to work is making a decision that impacts everyone.”

To provide a little relief for drivers, Alaskan Way will be back to two lanes in each direction before the tolling starts, but construction on Alaskan Way will continue through 2021.

The tolls will also be going up in July of 2022. A 3 percent hike has already been baked into the debt repayment.


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SR 99 tunnel tolls could send thousands of cars onto Seattle streets