Larry Seaquist, the former state rep from Gig Harbor, says Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls should be one-fourth of what they are, and he’s asking the state Transportation Commission, which is responsible for setting rates, for help.
It’s a matter of fairness, he says, and I’ve selfishly made the same argument myself. Why do we have to pay for every penny of our project when nobody else does?
It wasn’t so bad when tolls were $1.75. On July 1, they’ll jump another 50 cents to $5 for the cheapest rate. My wife and son both commute that direction. That’s $50 a week between them, $200 a month, $2,400 a year. After awhile, it’s real money.
In a letter, Seaquist says tolls should be cut to $1.25 now and top out at $1.50. That would pay for about one-fourth of the $729 million bridge, the percentage the state is asking from 520 floating bridge users for their $4.65 billion project.
But if the tolls are cut, how will the bridge be paid for?
The Legislature has been discussing a $15 billion transportation revenue package funded primarily through an 11.5 cent gas tax increase. Seaquist says reworking the bridge deal would take just 2/100s of 1 percent of that. I’ll trust his math.
In a way, I feel we made a deal, we should honor it. Who do we think we are? Pro athletes? The bridge is everything it was cracked up to be. Unfortunately, at least for now, it just pushes the backup a few miles down the road.
At the same time, Gig Harbor and South Kitsap residents, who would be the primary users, fought it all the way. It wasn’t about the bridge, but the tolls. An advisory vote on the bridge was extended to most of western Washington to get a favorable response. Those nearest were overwhelmingly opposed.
I don’t remember this, but Seaquist says the bridge financing was a test case, after 40 years without any tolls, to see if the state could charge users for large projects and stay away from the gas tax. Evidently, they didn’t like the results, because the Narrows became a one and only. A $15 billion gas tax package would demonstrate the state is abandoning tolling altogether.
“It is time for you commissioners to revisit the original deal,” Seaquist wrote. “Declare that both ends of the guinea pig experiment went wrong. The 100 percent rule forces tolls way too high for working families, students and retirees. And in eight years the state’s power players — big business, big labor and the politicians — have figured out that, for now, gas taxes are better than tolls.”
This would be outside the Transportation Commission’s realm. It’s just responsible for keeping tolls high enough to pay for bridge debt, operation and maintenance. But Seaquist is asking them, as the state’s tolling authority, to tell the governor and legislator the experiment didn’t work.
“It is not fair that our tolls should go up when the state has abandoned the 100 percent rule, has walked away from mega-project tolling and is planning to raise our gas taxes so we can help pay for everyone else’s new highways, too,” he wrote.