Raising Narrows Bridge tolls would Hurt Businesses, and Families

Comment By Bob L.
Thur.02-09-2012

Increasing the cost to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge would take a Toll on Families Living on, and People Visiting the peninsula, and its economy.)  The Government does what they want whether you want it or not, they don’t care, just look at how many are unemployed today.

This is true, but look at it this way, it will help Port Orchard, Bremerton and Shelton, but ont the other hand it will put a heavier load on highways 302, 16 and 3, so where are the brains of these people, or is it a way to get pay raises and not pay for what they say, if you look back they have raised taxes and then some where they came up with a pay raise.

Look at what happen on the old bridge, you had a Governor tell every one that if you Elected him, he would take the toll off, but what they forgot to tell every one was that it was going to come off any way, in a way it was a scam just to get Elected.

Look at what the toll was on the old Bridge, car and driver $.50 each way $.10 for each passenger, sure that was back in the 50’s and 60’s but they stayed with that for years until it was taken off, so what, is this new bridge over priced, or is a way to get pay raises.

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CHRISTIAN HILL; Staff writer
Published: 02/08/12

Residents testified Wednesday night that increasing the cost to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge would take a toll on families living on the peninsula and its economy.

More than a dozen people spoke during a public hearing as the bridge’s citizen advisory committee considers raising tolls on the eastbound bridge for the first time since 2008.

Ruth Baldwin broke down crying as she said it would be cheaper to drive to Shelton to shop than pay a higher toll to visit Tacoma.

“I can’t afford it,” she said. “I used to go to Tacoma quite a bit, but I try not to if I don’t have to.”

Janet Gonzalez said must cross for her job in Renton, while her son’s caretaker must come from the other way. She said tolls strain the budgets of both households and that the state needs to do a better job of controlling costs.

“”We live over here and we get stuck with the brunt of it (paying off the bridge), and that’s not the way it should be,” she said.

Other speakers said higher tolls would hurt business and increase the cost of goods.

“You have an effect with an increase on the bridge, not only on the people who cross it but on the entire economy of the peninsula. … I think you need to take a look at other options,” Gig Harbor resident Russ Bucy said.

He suggested the committee look at variable pricing, which is being used on the state Route 520 floating bridge in Seattle, or lower tolls for people who cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge frequently.

But it appears the committee has no choice but to raise tolls in the face of flat toll revenue brought on by the recession, increasing payments on the money borrowed to build the bridge, some major bills coming due and a need to replenish an emergency reserve fund.

Staff has presented the committee with four preliminary options to raise tolls. They would raise Good to Go! to $4.25 or $4.50 from $2.75; increase the price at the toll booth to $5.50 or $6 from $4; and increase the fee for pay by mail, which began in December, to $7 or $7.50 from $5.50.

When a speaker asked about the options, a couple of committee members stressed the numbers weren’t coming from them.

“I would not accept any of that,” committee member Jim Pasin told him. “I think these tolls could be far below that.”

The committee has meetings set for Feb. 22 and March 8, if needed, to draft a recommendation to the Washington Transportation Commission, which sets the toll rates. The committee is scheduled to send on its recommendation March 20.

The new rate would take effect as early as July 1, not quite five years after the bridge opened.

The weak economy has taken a toll on bridge use, and fewer vehicles mean less revenue. The state has revised the estimated number of vehicles making round trips on the bridge in 2012 from 16 million to 14 million.

The state sold 10 series of bonds totaling $680 million to finance the eastbound bridge’s construction under the assumption that a series of toll increases would cover rising principal and interest payments.

State law doesn’t allow restructuring of that debt, according to a recent memo by a deputy state treasurer, so stretching out the payments to moderate the amount of increases isn’t an option.

The state deferred payment of the sales tax on bridge construction. It must pay $5.75 million a year for 10 years starting in December.

Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, introduced legislation to delay the start of that repayment until December 2018. The bill is still alive, Kilmer wrote in a text message received at the meeting; he couldn’t attend because of legislative business.

Speakers said those payments must bet put off, if not eliminated.

“It will kill this community in the middle of a recession,” bridge watchdog Randy Boss said.

In addition, a $5.3 million start-up loan from the state’s gas-tax account also needs to be repaid.

In March 2010, the state transportation commission left tolls unchanged after lawmakers postponed repayment of that loan. Last year, an increase was avoided by dipping into a reserve fund.

Without new revenue, ongoing expenses are projected to empty the reserve in November. A recent state policy requires reserve to pay bridge expenses for 45 days in case of emergency, totaling about $8 million during the upcoming fiscal year.

The commission last raised tolls on the bridge by $1 in 2008.

Christian Hill: 253-274-7390

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