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Transportation budget would clear roadblock to higher Tacoma Narrows bridge tolls, ferry fares

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on April 3, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
April 3, 2013 1:21 pm

Today’s bipartisan transportation budget proposal would clear the way for a phased 50-cent increase in Tacoma Narrows bridge tolls by restoring the state Transportation Commission’s power to set toll rates.

The Tacoma Narrows bridges
The Tacoma Narrows bridges

It’s an expected move and the latest volley in a now-familiar game of political ping-pong: Voters pass Tim Eyman-backed measures that take away the commission’s authority and give it to the Legislature. State lawmakers pass it back to the board. Repeat.

Most recently, Initiative 1185 took the authority away. I-1185 backers say elected officials should be responsible, not those appointed by the governor. Others say experts should set the rates and that leaving them in the hands of politicians seen as unpredictable would scare off lenders. Democrat Tracey Eide and Republican Curtis King sided with the latter group in writing their budget.

The commission is poised to raise tolls by a quarter this summer and the same amount next summer. The first round of increases on July 1, 2013 would raise rates to $4.25 for cash, $5.25 for prepaid Good to Go and $6.25 for pay-by-mail drivers.

Another proviso in the budget would allow the commission to increase ferry fares, but only to “generate the amount of revenue required” by the budget. Bainbridge Island Democratic Sen. Christine Rolfes said in a news release that the budget assumes a “modest” 2.5 percent fare increase and would not cut ferry service.

Here’s the budget language:

Consistent with RCW 43.135.055, 47.60.290, and 47.60.315, during the 2013-2015 fiscal biennium, the legislature authorizes the transportation commission to periodically review and, if necessary, adjust the schedule of fares for the Washington state ferry system only in amounts not greater than those sufficient to generate the amount of revenue required by the biennial transportation budget. When adjusting ferry fares, the commission must consider input from affected ferry users by public hearing and by review with the affected ferry advisory committees, in addition to the data gathered from the current ferry user survey.

Consistent with RCW 43.135.055 and 47.46.100, during the 2013-2015 fiscal biennium, the legislature authorizes the transportation commission to periodically review and, if necessary, adjust the schedule of toll charges applicable to the Tacoma Narrows bridge only in amounts not greater than those sufficient to support (a) any required costs for operating and maintaining the toll bridge, including the cost of insurance, (b) any amount required by law to meet the redemption of bonds and applicable interest payments, and (c) repayment of the motor vehicle fund.

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