Friday, March 22, 2013

The Washington State Transportation Commission wants to hear from you about toll rates

Under the proposed rates, drivers with a Good To Go!
pass will still pay the lowest toll rate.
By guest blogger Korbett Mosesly

Did you know WSDOT doesn’t set toll rates? The Washington State Transportation Commission is responsible for setting toll rates for state highways and bridges. The commission reviews traffic and revenue on toll facilities, including the SR 520 and Tacoma Narrows bridges, throughout the year to determine whether toll rate changes are necessary.

We design, build, and operate the toll facilities and work with the commission to set toll rates in an amount sufficient to meet the financial obligations of each facility.

What does all this mean if you drive over either the Tacoma Narrows or SR 520 bridges?

On March 19, after months of reviewing traffic and revenue results as well as forecasts for the next fiscal year, the commission proposed toll rate increases for both bridges.

For the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the commission is proposing a 25-cent increase for two-axle vehicles in both 2013 and 2014. On July 1, 2013, the commission proposes that the Good To Go! pass rate will increase to $4.25, the cash rate will go to $5.25 while the Pay By Mail rate will be $6.25. The commission will continue to keep an eye on traffic, revenue and debt payments over the next year however, under their proposal tolls will go up another quarter on July 1, 2014.

On the SR 520 bridge, drivers will see a 2.5 percent increase for all toll rates. The peak weekday Good To Go! pass rate will be $3.70, while the Pay By Mail rate will rise to $5.25.

Why do toll rates need to increase?
Toll rate increases ensure revenues meet our legal requirements to cover debt payments to pay for these new bridges. State law requires revenue collected from tolls on the SR 520 and Tacoma Narrows bridges can only be used on those corridors.

For Tacoma Narrows Bridge, tolls help pay back construction bonds for the new eastbound bridge which opened in 2007. Why are tolls increasing? The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was financed with an escalating debt repayment plan which means our payments were low when the bridge first opened and rise over time. This also means tolls must increase over time. For example, between 2007 and 2009 the state made $41 million in debt payments and in the current 2011-2013 budget debt payments are nearly $90 million.

Tolls on the SR 520 bridge help pay for a new, safer bridge set to open in 2015. Toll rate increases support the finance plan for SR 520, which has incremental increases in the first five years then levels out after the new bridge is open. If you remember, SR 520 toll rates went up 2.5 percent last July, and this upcoming rate increase would be second of four planned, annual 2.5 percent rate increases. There will also be a one-time 15 percent increase in 2016 after the new bridge opens to traffic.

How can you learn more and participate?

The people who drive on and pay for the roads and bridges are an important part of the decision making process. The commission is currently seeking comments on proposed toll rate increases on the Tacoma Narrows and SR 520 bridges.

You have the opportunity to speak directly to the commissioners as they consider new rates. If you can’t make it in person, you can submit your comments to the commission via email at or by mail at:

Washington State Transportation Commission
PO Box 47308
Olympia, WA 98504-7308