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Tolling projections for viaduct replacement tunnel already short

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The state hasn’t even started digging the new Alaskan Way tunnel, but the projected tolling money is already $200 million in the hole.

“We did underestimate based on today’s reality and the recession,” Transportation secretary Paula Hammond told 97.3 KIRO FM’s Ross and Burbank Show.

Tolls were expected to cover $400 million of the $3 billion tunnel project when the plan was approved three years ago, but now projections say tolls will likely only cover half of that.

A recent study determined some of the original tolling assumptions were a little too positive, and now the state has two months worth of tolling data from 520 to factor in.

“What we’ve learned is that individual drivers value their time differently today because of the recession than they did back in 2008 and 2009.”

Hammond said drivers might be more willing to put up with more congestion on city streets rather than pay the toll. The evidence is already clear on the 520 bridge where traffic is down 40 percent. The WSDOT’s latest study showed 11 percent of drivers chose to take I-90 and another nine percent are driving north around Lake Washington. Another five percent of drivers have vanished. Either they’ve decided it’s just not worth it or they’re taking the bus.

Hammond wouldn’t say if they would consider lowering the toll on the 520 bridge if traffic volumes remain low, but she did say they evaluate the numbers and pass them on to the state transportation commission, the group that sets the toll rates.

The state will divert gas tax money to cover the remaining $200 million needed for the tunnel project.

“We’ve made it whole, but we aren’t going to earn as much from tolling as we thought we would,” Hammond said.

So Mayor McGinn was right then, asked Dave Ross.

“Well, I don’t know.”

Mayor McGinn came out against the tunnel replacement project because he predicts cost overruns that could end up in the city’s lap.

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