Good news for Tacoma Narrows Bridge commuters: The state Transportation Commission has decided not to raise tolls – both Good to Go and cash – for the coming year.
Earlier this year, an increase in the cash tolls seemed definite. But the transportation budget approved by the Legislature last week will allow the bridge to postpone its repayment of a $5.3 million start-up loan from the state’s gas-tax funds.
By avoiding paying that debt now, the bridge doesn’t need to raise tolls, transportation commissioner Carol Moser said after the board’s decision today.
The commission had been considering increasing electronic tolls by 50 cents to $3.25 and cash tolls by a dollar to $5.
The prospect of frequent users with electronic transponders paying more to cross the bridge brought a crowd of 200 to a meeting of the citizen advisory board on tolls.
The advisory panel recommended freezing the electronic tolls, but the Transportation Commission went even farther by holding both cash and electronic rates steady. Infrequent users already pay more than their fair share, board members said.
But Moser warned that commissioners will revisit the issue and tolls will have to go up eventually, as the bridge faces repaying bonds. She said:
We’re just deferring it, hoping that the economy is better, that people are better positioned to be able to afford an increase in the toll rate. This being a really difficult economic time frame, it just made it really hard to absorb for a lot of the people, especially on fixed incomes.
Here’s Sen. Derek Kilmer’s press release praising the decision:
Kilmer hails decision to hold line on Narrows Bridge tolls
OLYMPIA — Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, issued the following statement Wednesday after the state Transportation Commission voted to leave Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls alone for the next year:
“I’m very pleased by the commission’s decision. Folks are struggling enough in this lousy economy without having to pay higher tolls on a bridge they’ll cross hundreds of times each year.”
“This is why we worked so hard this legislative session to defer the Narrows Bridge startup loan and change the way tolls are collected and how fines are administered. This is why we scrub the bridge budget so hard to make sure dollars that are supposed to be spent on bridge operations are actually spent for that purpose.”
The commission had earlier considered increasing electronic tolls from $2.75 to $3.25 and cash tolls from $4 to $5.
During this year’s legislative session Kilmer worked to reduce pressure to raise tolls on two fronts.
First, he successfully included language in the supplemental transportation budget to have a $5.3 million startup loan, due June 30, 2011, deferred into the future. Second, he successfully amended a toll administration bill to divert fine revenues from toll violations to the Narrows Bridge account to pay off that loan.
“Keeping Narrows Bridge tolls down is a battle fought on many fronts,” Kilmer said. “I’m really pleased that citizens from our neck of the woods got actively involved on this issue. This year it’s really paid off.”