CHOKEPOINTS

Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll going down, but who should get the savings?

Jun 21, 2022, 7:53 AM
narrows...
Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Chris Connelly via Flickr)
(Chris Connelly via Flickr)

Taxes, fees, and tolls usually never go down once applied, but drivers in Tacoma are about to see a drop in their toll rate on the Narrows Bridge.

A lot of people consider the funding plan for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge as one of the worst in history.

The debt payments were low early on, but they kept growing larger, not unlike an adjustable-rate mortgage. The thinking was that population growth and use of the bridge would keep up with the ever-growing payments. They have not. The only fix has been to continually raise the tolls.

The Legislature has given loans to the bridge account to try and keep them from getting out of hand. But that money will have to be paid back too. The current rate is $5.25, if you have a Good To Go account.

This session, the Legislature decided to give the bridge account $130 million — as a gift, not a loan — to reduce the fare amount. Now it’s time to figure out how to make that happen.

Reema Griffith is the executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission, which is in charge of setting toll rates. “We determined $0.75 was the amount that would be sustainable for the amount of money they provided,” she said. “Then the question was: who gets the reduction?”

So how will that be applied? Should it just be for two-axle vehicles? Should it be everyone? Should it also include the multiplier that the big-rigs pay? They pay more based on how many axles they have. Should that work in reverse?

“Should we apply that reduction based on that multiplier,” Griffith asked. “They could get anywhere from $1.50-$2.50 in reduction instead of the $0.75 for those 3-plus axle vehicles.”

There is a public survey and open house up through the end of the month where you can tell the commission what you think it should do with this toll reduction. “The three options are listed, and they can click on which one they want, and if they want to tell us further comments there’s an opportunity to do that,” she said.

Griffith said all of the comments will be taken and discussed at next month’s meeting, where the plan will be created. Once the commission comes up with how that reduction should be applied, there will be another comment period before heading into the August meeting, where the final plan will be approved.

The reduction will take effect in October.

Griffith said the bridge debt should be retired around 2030, but the legislative loans will continue for a few years after that.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll going down, but who should get the savings?