After four years of annual toll rate increases, drivers crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge are finally getting a break. The Washington State Legislature recently announced the cancellation of a 50 cent toll increase planned for July of this year.
Good to Go users pay $5 to cross the bridge, tollbooth users pay $6 and Pay by Mail users pay $7. Current toll rates will not change until July 2017 at the earliest.
The debt for construction was structured in ballooning payments, with rising traffic volume expected to cover the rising debt service payments. However, because the volume of traffic crossing the bridge did not increase as the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) projected, drivers have faced toll rate hikes to make up the difference.
According to WSDOT, the cancellation was due in part to the Legislature’s investment of $2.5 million in gas tax revenue, an amount sufficient to cover this year’s increase in debt service payments. A bipartisan group consisting of Sen. Jan Angel and Rep. Michelle Caldier (both R-Port Orchard), Rep. Christine Kilduff (D-University Place) and Rep. Jesse Young (R-Gig Harbor), pushed for legislation to allow gas taxes to go toward the toll.
A 3 percent increase in traffic over the bridge in the past year also had a minor impact.
Rep. Young introduced multiple bills aimed at exploring a public-private partnership in order to collect tolls. The bills refer to other states where land is leased to the private sector to build plazas or rest areas that provide food, gas and other goods to drivers while also collecting tolls. Though specifics are unclear, it could mean drivers would be able to pay for gas, a latte and the toll all in one transaction, an idea lawmakers have dubbed “Toll by Coffee.”
Members of the Key Peninsula Community Council discussed the bridge toll at their April meeting. “The Key Peninsula Council favors alternative proposals to alleviate future increases in toll fees for the Narrows Bridge. A Request for Proposal for a program like Toll by Coffee is a concept that deserves further exploration,” council members wrote in a statement, adding, “We would like to have the peninsulas and rural communities represented on the state toll commission.”
The news was well received on Key Peninsula social media sites. Some residents expressed confusion over whether or not the tolls were intended to reduce traffic volume over the bridge. Others claimed that the bridge debt had already been paid off.
Although the tolls on the Lake Washington 520 Bridge, which provides access to Seattle from eastern suburbs, are intended to reduce traffic volumes, tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge are for debt payment only. The debt on bridge construction is scheduled to be paid in full by July 2030.