Monthly Archives: December 2015

Bridge tolls can’t be removed with the snap of the fingers

A petition posted on last week seeking to freeze or eliminate tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge generated an energetic response and much misinformation. I’ve attempted many times to explain the situation, but it’s apparently hard to comprehend. Maybe casting the information in the form of a quiz will make it easier.

1. What was the original cost estimate for the bridge?
A. $729 million
B. $350 million
C. $2.1 billion
D. $175 million
Answer: The state estimated in 1998, before negotiating a deal with builder United Infrastructure, the cost would be $350 million.

2. What did bridge construction wind up costing?
A. $729 million
B. $1.5 billion
C. $400 million
D. $1 billion
Answer: The construction cost was $729 million.

3. When will the bridge be paid off?
A. It was funded by state taxes.
B. It was paid off years ago.
C. 2030
D. Never
Answer: The bridge will be paid off and all other obligations satisfied by July 1, 2030.

4. What will be the total cost, including interest?
A. $729 million
B. $1.5 billion
C. $1 billion
D. $3.2 billion
Answer: The final payout will be $1.5 billion. That includes $684 million in bonds plus interest.

5. What happens after the bridge gets paid off?
A. Tolls will remain to pay for other state projects.
B. Tolls will be reduced to the amount needed to operate and maintain the bridge.
C. Tolls must legally be removed.
D. Tolls will remain to help pay for basic education.
Answer: Tolls must legally be removed. State taxes will pay for maintenance, like on the old bridge.

6. How often are toll rates increased?
A. Every July 1
B. Every couple months
C. When tolls start to fall short of paying for bonds, maintenance and operations
D. When state officials want a pay raise
Answer: Toll rates are raised when necessary to keep up with bond payments that increase each year.

7. How many times have toll rates been raised since the bridge opened in July 2007?
A. Eight (annually)
B. Twice
C. Twelve
D. Five
Answer: Five times, from $1.75 the first year for transponders to $2.75 the next four years to $4, $4.25, $4.50 and $5 each for a year. The toll plan in 2002 foresaw tolls of $3 the first two years, $4 for three years, $5 for three years and $6 beginning this year for the remaining 15 years.

8. How much would a full-time commuter with a Good To Go pass pay a year at the current rate?
A. $3,000
B. $4,500
C. $850
D. 1,300
Answer: Assuming 260 weekdays in a year, the annual cost would be $1,300.

9. What percent of tolls goes to pay the bonds?
A. 85 percent
B. 15 percent
C. 100 percent
D. 45 percent
Answer: In fiscal year 2014, $54 million of the $64.1 million in tolls — 85 percent — went toward debt service.

10. What else can tolls pay for?
1. State mega-projects
2. Pierce County road maintenance
3. Ferry operations
4. Bridge maintenance and operation
Answer: Only for maintenance and operation of the new bridge

11. An advisory election was held in 1998 whether people believed a toll bridge should be built. What areas were included?
A. Kitsap Peninsula only
B. Kitsap and Pierce counties
C. Kitsap, Pierce Clallam, Jefferson, Thurston, Mason and King counties.
D. The entire state
Answer: All of Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson and Thurston counties, most of Pierce and portions of Mason and King

12. What was the result of the advisory vote?
A. 53 percent approval
B. 95 percent approval
C. 19 percent approval
D. 33 percent approval
Answer: Transportation Secretary Sid Morrison interpreted a narrow 53 percent margin as a public approval to use corporate bonds to finance a new bridge. Eighty-three percent of Gig Harbor/South Kitsap voters were against it.

13. How has bridge traffic been since the new bridge went in?
A. Flat
B. Better than expected
C. Worse than expected
D. Nobody keeps track
Answer: Traffic has grown year to year, but not to the level expected. Forecasters in 2002 projected 2015 traffic to be 17 million, then dropped it to 16.4 million in a 2005 forecast. Actual 2015 traffic was 14.4 million. Fewer transactions contribute to more frequent toll increases.

14. Has the new bridge improved traffic congestion?
A. Not enough to warrant the tolls
B. It’s so much better that I don’t mind the tolls.
C. You can’t tell the difference except during commute times.
D.  I’d rather wait in traffic.
Answer: It would often take an hour to travel from Interstate 5 to the bridge between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Now it takes 6 to 7 minutes, according to DOT. It used to take 40 minutes to go from Rosedale Street to the bridge from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Now it takes 7 to 8 minutes to motor all the way from Highway 302.

15. Where can you find financial and traffic information?

A. You need a security clearance.
B. Online at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolling page
C. It’s on the Internet someplace but hard to find.
D. The information is not available to public.
Answer: On the Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolling page

The petition is directed at the state Department of Transportation and Transportation Commission, which can’t freeze or eliminate tolls. Toll revenue would have to be replaced by other funds to pay for the bridge, and only the Legislature can do that. It had a chance with passage in June of a $16.1 billion transportation revenue package, but help for Narrows toll-payers wasn’t included.
Local legislators and the citizen advisory committee have worked to keep bridge costs at a minimum. Most recently, Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, led an effort to defer payment of $57.6 million in sales taxes on construction costs until the rest of the bridge is paid off. Tolls would be collected an extra six to eight months, but rates would be less.
Despite what many might believe, there’s no good way to freeze or remove the tolls.
“There isn’t any other means to pay that bridge off that I know of,” Angel said. “That’s why I tried to do naming rights. That’s why the last session I got all the sales tax diverted to the very end. There is no fix that I can even see out there. We might be able to do some minuscule things here and there, but those tolls pay for the bridge.”