SR 99 tunnel revenue forecasts descend into a ‘sea of red’ as downtown commuting patterns change

Jul 22, 2022, 2:47 PM | Updated: 2:51 pm

sr 99...

SR 99 tunnel at dusk (WSDOT)


Revenue forecasts for the SR 99 tunnel are in a “sea of red,” with net revenue predictions progressively declining, reaching negative $2 million by 2024 and negative $10 million by 2031, according to the Washington State Treasurer’s Office. The problem is that, after the pandemic, fewer commuters are electing to use the tunnel.

“One of the things becoming clear is commuting has changed [with] work from home, especially in our urban core, our 520 area, and our 99 areas around the city of Seattle. We’ve seen a big change in forecasted revenue.” Jason Richter, deputy state treasurer, told the Washington State Transportation Commission.

“We’ve just got a sea of red where we have insufficient revenues every year during the projection period.”

Richter noted that “there’s going to need to be some additional toll increases, but I’m suspicious that’s not going to be sufficient to cover the entirety of this issue,” hinting that additional funds will be required from the state Legislature to keep the tunnel operational.

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The SR 99 tunnel opened for traffic in February 2019 and tolling began in November 2019. The Legislature loaned the SR 99 tunnel $200 million, to be repaid through tolls.

Then the pandemic hit, significantly reducing traffic volumes by 42%, costing the tunnel approximately $13 million.

Traffic volumes through the tunnel have yet to recover, consistently 30-40% below pre-pandemic levels, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s performance dashboard.

“Given that the shortfall in a lot of years is equal to roughly a third of the revenue coming in, I just don’t know that a 30% toll increase would be realistic in any scenario,” Richter added.

“There’s going to be a need for a lot of work to be done on this. I think there’s likely going to be a need for some legislative assistance on this, some toll increases. All of the potential actions will be needed to remedy this particular problem.”

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SR 99 tunnel revenue forecasts descend into a ‘sea of red’ as downtown commuting patterns change