What Happened at the Bridge Meeting?

Well, I missed the first part of it. Got stuck in Navy Yard traffic. Wouldn’t you think The Commute guy should know better?

The one concrete thing the Narrows Bridge Citizens Advisory Committee did was pass a motion to keep the same exemptions. The only free passes will be to emergency vehicles on emergency runs. Most of the emergency vehicles affected are aid cars going to Tacoma hospitals, but that will mostly go away in March when Gig Harbor opens its own hospital.

The committee revisited the topic of discounts and pretty much agreed to keep those the same, too, although no motion was made. Those who use a transponder for electronic toll collection get a discount, those who don’t pay full price. They figure that covers all regular users, including the groups that might want cut rates — like disabled, seniors, students, etc. A bunch of different rates would be complicated and costly to collect.

There never were supposed to be transponder discounts. The legislature just funded them for the first year to make sure there wouldn’t be jam-ups at the toll booths. But the citizen’s advisory decided to continue them. You can consider them frequent-user rates, though you don’t need to be a frequent user to get them. You just have to have a transponder.

You’d think that everybody who wanted a transponder would have one by now. The bridge has been open nearly a year and a half. But Janet Matkin of the tolls office said they’re still setting up about 1,000 accounts a month. That’s surprising to them, too.

I jumped the gun last week in writing that early numbers show there won’t have to be a toll increase on July 1. There might not, but then again there might. After July, August and September they were up about $400,000 over projections, even though traffic was down. A lot of that money, however, came from surprising transponder sales. Now it looks like it could go either way and we won’t know until looking at traffic and revenue forecasts during three more meetings. The next one is Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Inn at Gig Harbor.

They want to keep the cash toll at an even dollar amount for ease and cost of collecting. It’s $4 now so it would have to go to $5. The electronic rate is $2.75, so it would probably jump to $3.75.

The next meeting they plan to vote on how much cushion they need to keep in the operations fund. They’re thinking 3 to 5 percent.

One way of looking at the tolls is you can pay them now or you can pay them later. The money can’t be used for anything except the bridge, so if you collect too much now you can delay raising the rate the next time.