State asking who should get Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll reduction

Posted on June 15th, 2022 By:

The Washington State Transportation Commission is asking for public input on how to reduce toll rates on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on Oct. 1.

The state’s toll-setting board is offering three options:

  • A 75-cent reduction for only 2-axle vehicles
  • All vehicles get a 75-cent reduction
  • A 75-cent reduction for 2-axle vehicles, with a per-axle multiplier applied for vehicles with 3 or more axles. The reduction would range from $1.15 for 3 axles to $2.25 for six or more.

Narrows Bridge toll background

Current rates are $5.25 with a Good To Go! pass, $6.25 at the toll booths and $7.25 for pay by mail.

The rate reduction is the result of Substitute Senate Bill 5488 passed by the Legislature in March. The law requires $3.25 million transfers from the general fund to the toll bridge account each quarter until the bridge is paid off in 2032. That’s a total of $130 million.

State Sen. Emily Randall

State Sen. Emily Randall

An earlier version, sponsored by Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, specified that the reduction be “with the intended goal of maintaining two-axle toll rates at no more than 75 cents lower than the toll rates in effect as of Oct. 21, 2021.” That version noted that “the intent shall not be construed to mean that toll rates for vehicles with three or more axles should be reduced.”

However, mentions of 75 cents and axles were removed from the final bill. The language now states that “it is the intent of the Legislature that the commission will adjust tolls accordingly.”

The commission pushed for the changes to enable it to adjust Narrows Bridge tolls to ensure that debts are paid because default on the construction bonds could affect rates for future projects.

Despite the bill being passed without mention of axles, Randall said at passage: “We’re trying to target working families, not freight.”

Public comment on Narrows Bridge toll rates

The commission said in March that the rollback would almost certainly be 75 cents, though it reserved the right to change it if needed. That projection was based on traffic and revenue forecasts and the amount being transferred from the general fund.

The commission will gather public comments through June. It will review them and the latest financial reports during its July 19-20 meeting. The commission will then choose a rate reduction proposal for further comment. A final public hearing will be in late August. New toll rates will take effect on Oct. 1.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

A bill passed in March will reduce tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now

An online forum will be available through June 30 where the public can vote on one of the three options and provide comments. Feedback can also be sent to an online comment form, by email to [email protected], by phone to (360) 705-7070 or by testifying at the virtual public hearing in late August. The date hasn’t been set.

Randall, who represents the 26th District that includes the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula areas, pre-filed a bill in early December that proposed that $772 million be transferred from the general fund to pay off all debts on the bridge. That was a bridge too far for lawmakers. She cut the request back to the $130 million that was passed.

“My hope is we’re able to give as much of a break to commuters and folks who travel across the bridge as possible given the amount of money we’re able to secure from the Legislature,” Randall said Tuesday. “Public comment and participation always make our process better. It’s good to get money back in people’s pockets, and I’m excited to hear what our neighbors’ top priorities are.”

Tolls have been about what was expected

The bridge cost $729 million to build. It received a $57 million loan from the state for deferred sales taxes on construction.

State Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, led an effort to convince the state to loan up to $85 million to freeze tolls that had been escalating. About $43 million of that has been borrowed. All of that money must be repaid by drivers.

The total sum, including interest, reached $1.48 billion, according to state Transportation Commission Deputy Director Carl See. About half has already been paid since the bridge opened in 2007.

Narrows Bridge tolls remain near what was projected. Before construction, the Department of Transportation published a preliminary schedule that placed tolls at $3 the first year. Tolls were to rise to $4 the following three years, $5 the next three and $6 for the final 15 years.

Toll revenue can only cover debt payments, operations and maintenance costs, plus the state loans.