‘There’s just nuances’: Public weighs in on 3 options for tolls for the SR 99 tunnel

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SEATTLE -- Tolling roads is one of the ways the state is dealing with growth of cities like Seattle. The new SR-99 tunnel will be the next big roadway to be tolled in our area, and right now the state wants to know what drivers think about the options.

Commuting into downtown from Burien is a daily drive for Abigail Randall.

“I personally come into Seattle to work five days a week,” said Randall. “I’ve never liked the tunnel, that’s a lost battle, and I’ve lost the battle for tolls, but at least I want to have my voice heard on what kind of toll it’ll be."

The SR-99 tunnel is slated to open this fall. Once it does, transportation officials say drivers won’t have to pay anything for the first few months, but after a grace period tolls will be implemented.

“Basically, we’re looking at peak period rates between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. in the morning and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the evening are the highest rates. Around $1.50 to $2.25 at the highest times,” said Reema Griffith, the executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission.

The WSTC is looking at three different tolling options.

“There’s just nuances, for example if people like the idea of no toll increases for five years and then have them go up 5% every few years or if they like smaller incremental increases,” said Griffith.

The options also vary in how many times each day the rates would change.

“I liked the first toll option, because it had six regular toll times instead of eight,” said Randall.

The three toll rate options currently under consideration would be in effect from when tolling begins in 2019 through at least June 2020:

 

Option A:

Toll rates range from $1.50 - $2.25 during peak travel times and $1 overnight.

The midday toll rate is $1.25.

There are four different toll rates over six time periods on weekdays.

Beginning in July 2022, toll rates increase 3 percent, every three years for all days of the week.

 

Option B:

Toll rates range from $1.50 - $2.25 during peak travel times and $1 overnight.

The midday toll rate is $1.

There are four different toll rates over eight time periods on weekdays.

Beginning in July 2020, there will be annual toll rate increases of 3.5 percent for five years that will apply to the weekday rates only.

 

Option C:

Toll rates range from $1.50 - $2.25 during peak travel times and $1 overnight.

The midday toll rate is $1.25.

There are five different toll rates over seven time periods on weekdays.

There are no toll rate increases during first five years of tolling. Then there are three toll rate increases of five percent each, taking place in July of 2024, 2029, and 2034, for all days of the week.

Officials say they know drivers don’t like tolls, but big ticket items like the tunnel don’t come cheap.

“When you’re talking about projects that are in the billions and taxes like the gas tax aren’t going be there to help pay for it, we have to find new ways to finance infrastructure,” said Griffith.

Randall says she understands that, but worries it might soon cost her too much to come into Seattle.

“It feels like I’ve been taxed or forced to pay to be in Seattle as opposed to being welcomed there. I don’t know how people like me, who have more to contribute besides money, are really going to survive,” said Randall.

The commission will hold public input meetings in Seattle to gather comments on the three toll-rate options under consideration, two other meetings will take place this week and the public is welcome to comment online.

 

Tuesday, June 5

5:30 – 6:30 p.m.:  Open house on tunnel project and tolling

6:30 – 8 p.m.:  Public input meeting on tolling options

High Point Community Center, Multipurpose Room

6920 34th Ave. SW, Seattle

 

Wednesday, June 6

5:30 – 6:30 p.m.:  Open house on tunnel project and tolling

6:30 – 8 p.m.:  Public input meeting on tolling options

Phinney Center, Blue Building, Room #7

6532 Phinney Ave. N, Seattle

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