Seaquist trying to cut us a break on bridge tollsDecember 4th, 2013 by ed friedrich
I’ve been whining about this for years now. Why do we have to
pay the entire cost of building the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge with
tolls when the state is helping to fund the new 520 floating bridge
and other mega-projects. Now I have Rep. Larry Seaquist on my
The Gig Harbor Democrat proposed in a press release Tuesday that if the House and Senate can agree to a $10 to $12 billion transportation revenue package they’ve been kicking around, Kitsap Peninsula folks should get some toll relief out of the deal. He would roll back rates to $4 for electronic and $4.25 for cash, and freeze them there. They’re now at $4.25 and $5.25.
He’d prevent future toll increases by shifting a small percentage of the proposed new gas tax revenue to a new “Tacoma Narrows Bridge Toll Stabilization Account” that would help pay the bridge’s escalating construction bonds.
“We are paying 100 percent of the bridge costs,” he said. “If we are going to raise gas taxes, part of that must be used to restore simple fairness to our bridge users.”
The House has proposed a 10-year, $9.8 billion plan with a 10 1/2-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, the Senate a 12-year, $12.3 package with a 11 1/2-cent hike. They’re not too far apart on dollars and projects, but still have to work out some philosophical differences. That could happen before the legislative session begins in January, during the session, or never.
“My solution offers a fair and reasonable compromise,” said Seaquist. “If these provisions are not enacted, not only will TNB tolls go up, but we’ll be subsidizing the 520 project through higher gas taxes. That’s a double hit for my constituents and is anything but fair.”
At least we didn’t have to start paying tolls before the new bridge was built, like they’ve been doing on 520 the past two years. As bad as Narrows traffic was then, people would’ve gone nuts.
Up at Lake Washington, drivers are avoiding the 520 bridge toll by taking I-90, so the state is looking into tolling that route, too. Poor Mercer Islander residents are crying because I-90 is their only way on and off the island. The state is considering free or discounted trips for them. It’s not like there’s a reasonable alternative for people using the Tacoma Narrows.
The $729 million for the new Narrows bridge is just the up-front cost. That money was borrowed, so, like a house mortgage, there’s interest that will more than double the final amount. Plus our tolls pay for all of the operations — including collecting the tolls — and maintenance. Altogether, that runs into the billions of dollars.
The Transportation Commission, when confronting the fairness issue, has a pretty good comeback. Tolls may be paying for the Narrows bridge itself, but the state put millions into the approaches to it, $170 million into westbound Nalley Valley and is working on $115 million in eastbound improvements so they’re not just moving the traffic jam down the road. I appreciate that, but still can’t totally buy that it squares us with other mega-projects.
House Transportation Committee chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, of all places, says she’s besieged by peers wanting to add projects to the package. I’m sure it’s the same way on the Senate side. Seaquist’s is just another of these. As sad as it sounds, you might as well put your hand out when everybody else is. Transportation leaders need to buy some votes to get the thing passed.
The only substantial Kitsap Peninsula road project that’ll probably wind up in the package is the Belfair Bypass, though there would be money to build another 144-car ferry. Maybe Seaquist can sweeten the pot.