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Funding for improvements to I-405/167 corridor $360M in hole

This stretch of 405 between Lynnwood and Bothell stands to lose out because of funding issues. (KIRO Radio, Chris Sullivan)

The state is expected to announce toll increases on the 520 Bridge, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the 99 Tunnel next week.

Tolling revenue was down so much during the pandemic that the state needs to increase the rates to meet its financial obligations.

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

Some vital projects on the I-405/167 corridor could face potential delays or cuts because of the lack of tolling revenue. Projects like adding Bus Rapid Transit between Bothell and Lynnwood, adding another express toll lane in the same spot, and adding a HOT lane between Sumner and Auburn all face potential jeopardy. They were to be funded by bonds tied to tolling revenue.

In 2019, the state Legislature passed a bill allowing bonding against tolling revenue, basically allowing the state to borrow up to $1.5 billion in bonds that would be paid back by anticipated toll revenue. Some expected, upcoming projects along the 405/167 are funded this way. But with less revenue, less bonding, less money, none of these bonds have been issued. The corridor faces a $360 million budget hole in funding the five projects. That’s about a third of the total price tag. For perspective, I-405 tolling revenue was off 79% over expectations in 2020.

“The unfortunate reality of where we are today is the existing toll revenue that was anticipated in 2019 — there simply isn’t enough money to complete the projects that were appropriated and envisioned in 2019,” I-405/167 corridor administrator Lisa Hodgson told a group this week.

The forecasts for getting that money through tolling are not good, according to state Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar.

“While we do see more traffic in March and April, it will take several years for the revenues that were anticipated in 2019 to be back to fund our program at its intended level,” he said.

That could mean pushing some of the projects into the end of the decade, which also has consequences.

Deputy State Treasurer Jason Richter said the funding is tied to those projects being finished and generating money.

“If there’s any delay in delivery of those projects and that revenue, that will cause us additional concern and may impair our ability to do the financing that we’re looking to do,” Richter said.

State Rep. Davina Duerr does not like what she’s hearing. Her district was promised relief between Bothell and Lynnwood and relied on it.

“What I’m struggling with is the damage to my community, in the 1st District in Bothell,” Duerr said. “We’re talking about significant damage that will be done.”

Her district has made significant land use and planning decisions based on these projects being completed.

“Literally, all of the pain and none of the gain,” Rep. Duerr said, if these projects are delayed.

Washington expected to raise, expand tolls on freeways over pandemic losses

Bus Rapid Transit along the entire I-405 corridor was expected by 2025. That project could be pushed by several years as the state figures out funding.

Decisions are expected later this year.

The cost of these projects have also increased because of construction costs and the increase in property values. It was expected they would cost $939 million in 2019. They are now estimated to cost $1.12 billion.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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