Bridge toll rates a little closer to reality

Although a final decision is awaiting the legislature’s completed budget, the Washington State Transportation Commission will move a little closer today to finalizing the tolling process for the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

During the commission’s meeting that begins today at 9 a.m. in Olympia, Washington State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Ann Briggs said that the board “will discuss the timeline and process for formal adoption of tolls, the public involvement and hearing process, possible toll exemptions, and toll scenarios based on a possible subsidy from the legislature.”

Briggs said the final decision will come later this month or early next month, however, after the legislature adjourns this year’s session.

That is because the budget the legislature ultimately creates will impact the final toll prices, since pending appropriations may funnel as much as $10 million dollars into the toll account.

In January, the ad-hoc Citizen Advisory Committee tasked by Gov. Christine Gregoire to recommended toll prices set a normal toll rate of $3 per car, and two possible discount prices.

If the $10 million of state money was put toward tolls, chairman Robert Ryan said, the committee recommended ETC users should pay $1. But if the state money was not appropriated, the ETC price should be $1.75.

Previous estimates of a discounted toll for ETC users were for half the normal toll, but chairman Robert Ryan said his committee decided on the $1 toll when they realized there would be a “substantial amount of excess with a $1.50 toll if we got the $10 million dollars” currently included in Gregoire’s proposed budget for toll reductions.

“The members of the committee felt we didn’t want to have a big amount of excess funds,” Ryan said, explaining that “we had a real firm idea that our job was not to try to get the largest amount of toll revenue, but to collect enough money to both pay the various costs and not have an excessive amount of toll revenue.”

Ryan said a second reason for the lower ETC toll amount was as an incentive for people to sign-up for the WSDOT’s transponder program, called Good to Go!

“We felt if we went down to a dollar, we would get an even greater numer of participants,” he said.

However, if the $10-million appropriation is not approved in the final budget, then the committee recommends the ETC tolls be raised to $1.75.

Additional discounts were frequently requested at community meetings, such as for senior citizens or students, but the committee decided against offering those because of “the difficulty of identifying those persons,” along with concerns that such discounts may “favor one group over the other” perhaps increase administrative costs.

Comments on the toll rates wcan be sent to the WSTC via regular post to: P.O. Box 47308, Olympia, WA. 98504-7308, or to the WSDOT via its website:

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