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State votes to approve toll increases for SR 99 Tunnel, 520 Bridge, Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Tolling in the SR 99 tunnel. (Photo courtesy of WSDOT)

The Washington State Transportation Commission voted to approve toll increases for the SR 99 Tunnel, the 520 Bridge, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on Tuesday.

The state said it needed to raise the toll rates to make up for the loss in revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, the corridors might not be able to meet their financial obligations if the Washington State Transportation Commission hadn’t acted to raise the rates.

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There were two options under consideration for the SR 99 Tunnel. The first — which the WSTC ultimately voted to approve on Tuesday morning — is an across the board 15% increase, which will raise the rates between 15 and 35 cents, depending on the time of day. The second option would have been a straight 25 cent increase for all hours. Toll analyst Brent Baker said this won’t be the last of the increases either.

“Both options would shore-up net revenues through 2025, after which additional increases will likely be needed,” Baker told the commission in June.

This toll increase will go into effect in October. There is also a 3% increase planned for next July 2022.

The 520 Bridge also had two options the commission was considering. The first — also approved by the WSTC on Tuesday — will move the peak hour toll rate another hour in the morning and in the afternoon. All other hours, with the exception of the overnight hours, the bridge will see an increase between 20 and 55 cents. Option two would have been an across the board 15% increase for all hours.

Thanks to $50 million in federal recovery dollars the Legislature is throwing at the corridor, these changes wouldn’t go into effect until 2023, but Baker said the commission needs to act now.

“It is incumbent on the commission to act this year so we can accurately demonstrate that the SR 520 net toll revenues will be sufficient to meet all forecast horizon financial obligations through the life of the debt, as is required by the master bond resolution,” he said.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge plan only had one option, with the commission approving a straight 25-cent increase.

Randy Boss is on the Narrows citizens advisory board. He was not a big fan of this plan.

“You recommend yet another toll increase against the users of the TNB, just another outrageous inequity that keeps getting piled on the TNB with no comprehensive evaluation,” he told the commission in June.

The Narrows Bridge toll increase will start in October.

Next, the public will have about a month to weigh in on the WTSC’s plans for all three roadways, with final decisions to be made in August.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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