State Transportation Commission votes not to raise Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls

The Washington State Transportation Commission voted this week to not raise tolls at all for crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, prompting immediate praise from Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor).

“I’m very pleased by the commission’s decision,” Kilmer said Wednesday. “Folks are struggling enough in this lousy economy without having to pay higher tolls on a bridge they’ll cross hundreds of times each year.”

Last fall, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Citizen Advisory Committee recommended keeping the transponder price at $2.75, but raising the cash/credit card price from $4 to $5.

However, in late December, State Treasurer James McIntire recommended raising the transponder toll to $3.75, citing concerns over having “sufficient coverage” of the bridge bond debt payments, and early this year the commission voted to raise the tolls to $3.25 and $5.

Following that recommendation, Kilmer and his fellow 26th District representatives — Reps. Larry Seaquist and Jan Angel — called on the treasurer to meet with the public and explain his reasoning for requesting higher tolls.

In February, angry residents came out in droves when McIntire did just that, attending a meeting of the bridge’s CAC to explain in person why he was recommending 110 percent coverage.

“My job is to protect the integrity of all the state funds, and make sure that the payouts for the bridge do not impinge on the other funds,” McIntire said. “I do believe 110 percent is the right number. It is my professional opinion, and that is what I was asked to do — give my professional opinion.”

The CAC voted to stick to their prior recommendation, and this week the commission met to formulate its official toll recommendation, which was to freeze the toll rates for another year.

“The commission recognized the fact that these are tough economic times for everyone,” said Kilmer, adding that he felt the hundreds of people who contacted the commission though e-mails, letters, phone calls or in person definitely had an impact on the decision. “This is a good example of the impact of public involvement.”

Kilmer was also successful in “including language in the supplemental transportation budget to have a $5.3 million startup loan, due June 30, 2011, deferred into the future,” and “amending a toll administration bill to divert fine revenues from toll violations to the Narrows Bridge account to pay off that loan.

“Keeping Narrows Bridge tolls down is a battle fought on many fronts,” he said. “I’m really pleased that citizens from our neck of the woods got actively involved on this issue. This year it’s really paid off.”

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