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Bridge users want equity

Members of the Washington State Transportation Commission met in Tacoma on Wednesday afternoon to hold a community hearing for the residents of Pierce and Kitsap counties, and what they heard was that commuters are still unhappy with the projected Narrows Bridge tolling arrangement.

As part of the transportation budget the Legislature passed earlier this year, the Transportation Commission is required to perform a tolling study, including an analysis of the only currently authorized toll facility in the state — the Tacoma Narrows Bridge project.

The findings of the study are to include the development of more equitable toll policies for those who will use the new bridge and other options to further buy down the outstanding debt for the construction costs.

In a letter to the Transportation Commission presented on Wednesday, members of the Washington State House Democratic Caucus expressed their concerns over what they see as the Commission’s lack of focus on the Peninsula’s plight.

“It is of some concern to us,” the letter said, “that in the three-hour update on the tolling study at the recent Transportation Commission meeting (on Oct. 18), there was only a brief mention of the Narrows Bridge-specific elements of the tolling study.

“We would like to take this opportunity to reiterate to you all that finding more equitable solutions on this tolling issue for the people in our communities remains a high priority.

The letter concluded, “We look forward to you and/or the consultants working on this project providing us with some indication of the progress made to date and a timeline for completion of this important piece of the tolling study.”

Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) also gave testimony Wednesday, asking for members of the Commission to continue looking for a more equitable funding option than tolling bridge users.

“As you will see later this afternoon, the bridge project is progressing rapidly, and in just a year and a half will be open for traffic,” he said. “When the bridge opens, we will also begin to pay a toll.”

Klmer continued, “As was discussed at your last meeting, tolling will likely be an increasing piece of our transportation funding puzzle in the years ahead. Rather than taking an ad hoc approach to determining when tolls are used and how high tolls are set, I believe it will be important that we have a clear policy regarding the use of tolls.”

That’s just one reason why the current tolling study is so important, Kilmer said. “We need to be thoughtful and equitable with regard to how we use tolls in our state,” Kilmer argued.

Kilmer also highlighted a provision in the legislation. “We asked that the tolling study specifically include the development of more equitable toll policies for those who will use the new Narrows Bridge,” he said, “and other options to further buy down the outstanding debt for the construction costs.”

Finding more equitable solutions on the tolling issue for the people of the 26th District communities is a high priority, Kilmer said.

“My hope,” he said, “is that in light of the overall recommendations being made for tolling overall in our state, this study will give rise to potential solutions to provide a more equitable deal for Narrows Bridge users.”

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