Officials consider maximum $2.50 toll for new Seattle tunnel
There are several options for a Seattle tunnel toll, but the one with the most momentum is a maximum fee of $2.50.
The Washington State Transportation Commission is also discussing a toll that would vary from $1 on nights and weekends. It would increase to the maximum during other drive times through the tunnel that will replace Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct.
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It could be another 10 months before the commission officially sets a rate for the tunnel. With that deadline, the toll will be set shortly before the tunnel is expected to be completed in October 2018. Drivers won’t be able to use the tunnel until March of 2019, under the current timeline.
Seattle tunnel toll
Revenue from the Seattle tunnel toll is an important piece of its funding. At least $200 million of the project’s budget must come from tolling. There are concerns over threats to that funding — drivers will avoid the tunnel and its toll and drive through downtown Seattle instead.
A study has estimated that between 20,000 and 25,000 additional vehicles will be pushed onto I-5 and surface streets once the tunnel is open. Exactly how many drivers will opt out of the tunnel depends on how much the commission ultimately decides to charge.
The tunnel won’t be an option for many drivers. As MyNorthwest’s Kipp Robertson previously pointed out, the tunnel is a straight passage between the northern and southern stretches of downtown Seattle. The tunnel will not offer ramps to/from Seneca Street, Columbia Street, Western Avenue, or Elliott Avenue; options that the viaduct currently provides.
Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien anticipates this to be an issue. He asked for $200,000 in the recently-approved budget to study yet another toll. In this case, it would be a toll for people driving on downtown surface streets, avoiding the tunnel.
“Folks that are on 99 that are going to try divert to get out of the tunnel — because that they don’t want to pay that toll — do we have some sort of toll that says, ‘You are going to pay a toll one way or the other’? So if you are going to use the tunnel, just use it,” O’Brien said in October.
The surface street fee is similar to congestion tolling used in London.
To ease some of the new surface street traffic, there are plans to increase capacity on Alaskan Way — the route that the viaduct originally bypassed.
“The new tunnel will be just one of several transportation investments to the Seattle waterfront over the next several years, including the new Alaskan Way surface street with improved capacity and connections to downtown Seattle,” Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson Ethan Bergerson said in October.