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Tolls, SR 99 tunnel tolls
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Why Seattle tunnel toll prices are at the exit instead of entrance

The SR 99 tunnel.(MyNorthwest photo)

Seattle’s SR 99 tunnel has been tolled since early November, and we continue to get the same question:

“Why are the toll signs at the exits and not the entrances?”

WSDOT outlines concerns as tolling for Seattle tunnel begins

97.3 FM listener Anne Heavey wrote me, “the fact they don’t show the tolling costs before you enter the tunnel is not informative and seems like a gotcha.”

“I feel I’m not allowed to make a financial decision on which route to take,” listener Todd Cole wrote.

Dave Sonnen wrote, “if drivers knew how cheap the toll is, they might choose to use the tunnel to avoid downtown streets.”

All great observations, and all leading to that fundamental question: Why aren’t the toll rates displayed before you enter? It’s a question the state gets so often that it created an answer page on its website.

“If we posted the rates prior to the toll collection point, it’s possible drivers could see one rate displayed on the sign and by the time they drive under the tolling equipment that rate has changed,” the toll division’s Chris Foster said.

The state doesn’t want people to be charged a different amount from what they saw, as the toll rates in the tunnel change during the day.

Foster said there can be price confusion.

SR 99 tunnel ‘always going to be best route’ through Seattle

“We don’t want any lag-time between the rate you see and the rate you’re charged,” he outlined.

The toll division defends the sign placement, saying there are plenty of warnings that the tunnel is tolled.

“We have more than 20 signs posted around the north and south ends of the tunnel informing drivers that the tunnel tolled before they enter it,” Foster noted.

From the state’s perspective, it’s up to you, the driver, to know what the toll will be as you enter the corridor. That’s why the state has an app and a website describing the tolls and timing of the different prices.

There was also a spacing issue that determined where the toll price signs were placed. There wasn’t enough space for the signs and the tolling equipment at the entrances.

This situation is also an issue on eastbound 520. The tolling price isn’t displayed until you’ve already gone over the bridge.

The state expects you to do the research before your trip. Know before you go. That way the toll price shouldn’t be an issue, and the placement of the signs shouldn’t matter.

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