CHOKEPOINTS

Toll revenues still haven’t recovered, despite more commuters on the roads

Mar 15, 2022, 5:17 AM
I-405, toll...
Aerial view of the I-405 express toll lanes in Bothell. (Photo courtesy of WSDOT/Flickr)
(Photo courtesy of WSDOT/Flickr)

Drivers have returned to their cars, and our commutes are close to full again. But that hasn’t translated to dollars into the toll roads.

State tolling director Ed Barry will go before the Washington State Transportation Commission in another virtual meeting Tuesday. He will give commissioners an update that will sound very familiar.

This is what Barry told the commission almost one year to the day on how the pandemic was gutting toll revenues: “It remains to be seen as we come out of the pandemic and people, perhaps, go back to work or do different things how the toll revenue might behave, but it’s still pretty difficult to tell exactly what the new normal will look like.”

Of course, the delta variant of COVID-19 showed up, then omicron, and 2021 turned out to be as bad as 2020 for toll revenues.

Here is the bottom line: Toll revenues have fallen $158 million from the forecast created in November of 2019, just before the pandemic began. That’s a 36% drop over those 2019 projections.

The toll division then re-evaluated that 2019 projection and dialed down expectations. It didn’t hit those either, down about a million dollars over those lowered expectations between July and December 2021.

The worst performing corridor is the 405 Express Toll Lanes. I don’t think this will come as a shock to anyone because there was no reason to buy into an express lane when the regular lanes were doing just fine. Toll revenues are off 72%, or nearly $43 million, on 405.

The number of people using those lanes was down 45% over expectations, though there has been a positive uptick over the last few months as more commuters have returned. There were four days in a row earlier this month when the lanes hit the $10 maximum.

Revenues on the 520 Floating Bridge are down 47% over the November 2019 forecast. That pencils out to $79 million in lost revenue. It is also down over the revised forecast, though users of that corridor have increased slightly over the last few months.

The 99 tunnel in Seattle is off 34% or about $16 million. The 167 HOT lanes are down 51%, or just over $5 million.

State Legislature considers toll reduction for Tacoma Narrows Bridge

The Tacoma Narrows bridge revenues were only down 10% over the original forecast, though that does equal a loss of over $15 million. The revenues have actually gone up over the last few months on the bridge.

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Toll revenues still haven’t recovered, despite more commuters on the roads