Are bridge toll avoiders adding cars in Belfair?

The in basket: Greg Tyree thinks traffic through Belfair and Allyn has increased due to the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the $3 toll.
“Many people from the counties north of Mason have started using this route if they are heading south to Olympia, Portland etc.,” Greg wrote. “The travel time from Gorst to Olympia is close to the same if you go through Tacoma or through Belfair/Shelton, only minus the $3 toll.”


The in basket: Greg Tyree thinks traffic through Belfair and Allyn has increased due to the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the $3 toll.
“Many people from the counties north of Mason have started using this route if they are heading south to Olympia, Portland etc.,” Greg wrote. “The travel time from Gorst to Olympia is close to the same if you go through Tacoma or through Belfair/Shelton, only minus the $3 toll.”
I told him I would expect the elimination of the congestion associated with crossing the bridge to trump the additional $3 ($1.75 for electronic toll payers) and reduce use of Highway 3 through Mason County, but he said, “We here in Belfair have noted a slight increase in traffic, mainly due to saving the toll.”
The out basket: There aren’t yet any traffic counts through the two towns to verify or dispute what Greg asserts, but Janet Matkin of the bridge staff says counts on the Narrows crossing suggest there can’t be much redirected traffic.
“Since the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened in mid-July, there has been very little difference in traffic patterns compared to the same time period last year,” she said. “In fact, for the 11-week period ending September 30, there was a total of 3.2 million vehicles making the trip eastbound — just 1,557 vehicles less than the same period in 2006. Most of the drop-off occurred during the first weeks of bridge opening. During September, traffic actually increased by 1.4 percent over last year.
Claudia Cornish of the bridge office says traffic counters have just been set out along Highway 3 to get some firm figures. Results are a few weeks away. But as Janet says, “Most drivers seem to be taking advantage of the smooth flowing traffic on SR 16 and many are saying that the cost savings in gasoline more than makes up for the toll cost.”
To oversimplify then, assuming that the 1,557-vehicle drop was equally distributed over the 11 weeks (Janet says it wasn’t), discounting possible traffic growth and assuming all 1,557 used Highway 3 instead, that would be about 20 more cars a day through Belfair and Allyn, about one per hour. I guess that would qualify as a “slight increase” but I’m not sure it would be noticeable.

One thought on “Are bridge toll avoiders adding cars in Belfair?

  1. Regarding the traffic on Hwy 3 in Belfair. I don’t believe that it is due to people who want to avoid the toll on the Narrows Bridge. I believe most of the congestion is due to the signal at the junction of Hwy 3 and Hwy 106.
    It appears that the DOT has shown preference to the people on the South Shore. It is my experience that within 2-4 seconds of a car on Hwy 106 hitting the sensors at the signal, the signal changes to the detriment of the north and southbound traffic on Hwy 3.
    This is totally wrong. Hwy 3 has considerably more vehicles than Hwy 106 and should have the priority on the signal.
    On top of that, a large number of buses and trucks get caught at the signal (especially southbound). Since it is a steep grade south of the signal, the traffic never reaches even the speed limit for the first few miles. As a result, traffic has backed up all the way north of Belfair. I think the DOT should take a serious look at this signal and its timing and reset it to give priority where it belongs (to Hwy 3 traffic).

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