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Expect toll increases on 520 Bridge, SR 99 tunnel, but how much?

Tolling equipment. (WSDOT Flickr)

Fewer cars on the road means the state is missing out on toll revenue, but that’ll likely change by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, the Washington State Toll Commission met to discuss new toll rates for the 520 Bridge, the SR 99 Tunnel through Seattle, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. It’s not really a matter of if, but when and how much the rates will increase.

The toll subcommittee identified a couple of options each for the 520 Bridge and the 99 Tunnel.

SR 520 Bridge

  • Option A: Tailored toll rate increase by time period (averages to 15%).
  • Option B: Uniform 15% toll rate increase across all times of day.

The commission reported losing about six years of compounded growth in traffic due to the pandemic. It noted that the peaks are returning, but the volumes aren’t the same.

There were also questions about the impact of a rate increase to the environment and how equity plays a factor.

SR 99 Tunnel

  • Option A: uniform 15% toll increase on Oct 1, 2021, and assumes the planned 3% toll increase on July 1, 2022, is maintained. Tolls during the peak period would go from the current $2.25 to $2.60 per trip.
  • Option B: Uniform $0.25 toll increase on Oct. 1, 2021. Percentage increase varies by time of day, averages 16% on weekdays. Assumes the planned 3% toll increase on July 1, 2022, is maintained.

Tolling on the SR 99 tunnel was only open for about four months before the pandemic began. The tunnel opened in February 2019.

SR 99 traffic in 2022 is expected to be 23% lower than pre-pandemic levels, with net revenue at 59% below expected levels, according to the commission.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Legislation has stipulated a single 25 cent rate increase effective as soon as fiscal year 2022.

The commission said the COVID-19 pandemic did not have as significant impact on traffic over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and thus did not have a significant impact on toll revenue. The 13-month toll revenue was 16%, or $14.2 million below the pre-COVID forecast.

The Washington State Transportation Commission will meet in mid-June to identify the preferred options and open them up for public input. Adoption is expected in late August and final rates could take effect on Oct. 1.

Read more about traffic and construction in Chokepoints.

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