Community pushes back against commission over Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll plan

Aug 23, 2022, 4:05 PM
tacoma bridge narrows...
Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Photo courtesy of WSDOT)
(Photo courtesy of WSDOT)

The Washington State Transportation Commission has decided to move forward with its plan to reduce tolls over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge by 75 cents, with a higher reduction for vehicles with more than three axels despite pushback from the community.

At the previous commission meeting in July, the committee unveiled the data it had collected that showed the overall public most strongly supported option two preferred, which was the 75-cent reduction for all vehicles.

Committee favors public’s least favorite option for reducing Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls

The three options that the committee was considering were:

  • Option 1: Flat 75-cent toll rate reduction for only two-axle vehicles
  • Option 2: Flat 75-cent toll rate reduction for all vehicles
  • Option 3: Flat 75-cent toll rate reduction for two-axle vehicles, with a per axle multiplier applied for vehicles with three-plus axles (per current practice)

The commission said it plans to reduce toll rates for the bridge by Oct. 1 due to additional funding provided by the state legislature.

The original bill, backed by Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), sought to entirely pay off the $772 million still owed on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and to completely eliminate tolls, before it was pared back to the 75-cent savings. The $772 million also would have included the $57.6 million in deferred sales taxes and $43 million in state loans used to stabilize tolls.

In its stated goals, the commission was set up to provide an equitable way of reducing the tolls on the bridge while maintaining the budget it needed to keep the bridge operational.

“So state law requires the following considerations and setting flow rates, which includes fairness and equity in the context of statewide transportation system, avoiding increased traffic diversion to other routes, social equity, environmental and economic issues, and supporting progress towards the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals,” said Roy Jennings, Chair of the Washington State Transportation Commission.

The main reason for the approval of the proposal is the impact the discount will have on freight shipping by providing more discounts for trucks looking to transport goods in the area, which will help the broader community as a whole, the committee says.

“It provides both the same benefits provided by options one and two for two-axle vehicles in the same 75 cent rate reduction, I should say, as well as providing a larger benefit for that those two options for three plus excellent vehicles,” Jennings said. “It also best supports the use of the facility by freight, which helps support all residents in the region in supporting this important freight corridor.”

One community member voiced his displeasure with the commission’s plan to move forward with the third option, especially without input from a Citizens Advisory Committee.

“As you know, the Citizens Advisory Committee, which was formed by RCW 47.46.090, has 21 days to review any changes in toll facility rates and give you a report and their recommendation, and by law, you are required to consider the recommendations from the CAC you did not do that, and have not done that,” Randy Boss, a Tacoma citizen said in the public comment period. “Therefore, no rate consideration should be taking place until the CAC has been given the opportunity to provide that to you, so you’re violating the law.”

Boss asserts that moving forward with the toll reduction as planned is in violation of RCW 47.46.090, which does state that “no toll charge may be imposed or modified unless the citizen advisory committee has been given at least twenty days to review and comment.”

The commission responded by saying there never was a CAC to consult with in the first place, with the current Tacoma Narrows Bridge CAC having only one member listed on the governor’s website, Bruce Beckett, who was appointed in 2012. The other eight positions are currently vacant.

An alternative solution to the three options put together by the committee is to get rid of tolls completely, which is what Boss says the original money from the state government was intended for.

“Why we’re here talking about a 75-cent toll reduction, which is just ridiculous,” Boss said. “The bill that all you do is transfer $130 million over to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge account. And that is used to pay off the tolls. Now, I don’t understand why we’re talking about a 75-cent total reduction in any form whatsoever.”

The commission concluded their meeting by voting in favor of instituting option three with a vote of 4-0.

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Community pushes back against commission over Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll plan