The Washington State Transportation Commission will adopt new toll rates Monday, May 21, following a final public hearing on the proposal.
The commission has proposed increasing electronic Good to Go! tolls to $4 from $2.75, cash tolls to $5 from $4, and pay-by-mail tolls to $7 from $5.50. The new rates would take effect July 1.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Gig Harbor Civic Center, 3510 Grandview St. in Gig Harbor.
In previous public hearings, residents testified that a toll hike hurt families and businesses already struggling financially in the poor economy.
But there appears to be little choice for the commission, authorized by law to set bridge toll rates.
The financing plan to build the bridge relies on toll increases to pay for increasing principal and interest payments on the bridge. That 2002 plan called for increasing tolls to an average of $5 starting on July 1, 2012.
The debt payment on the bridge for the 12-month period ending June 30 is $43.2 million — $29.4 million in principal and $13.8 million in interest.
The total debt payment increases to $45.7 million fiscal year 2013 and nearly $54.6 million in fiscal year 2014, according to the state treasurer’s office.
Tolls are scheduled to increase a final time to an average of $6 starting in July 2015 until the debt is repaid in 2030 under the financing plan.
But another toll hike could come sooner than anticipated, primarily because the economy has held down anticipated increases in traffic.
The commission must set a toll rate that covers debt payments and maintenance and operation of the bridge. It also has a policy of maintaining at least 12.5 percent of the bridge’s annual expenses held in reserve as an emergency fund.
The proposed toll hike will cover the costs and reserve in fiscal year 2013 but not in fiscal year 2014, the 12-month period ending June 30, 2014.
“There’s no question I think that they will have to come back next year” to discuss another toll increase, said Rob Fellows, toll planning and policy manager at the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Fellows said the commission could set higher tolls now to avoid having the same discussion next year. But he said it was sensitive to economic conditions and wanted to hold down the hike as much as it could, hoping an economic recovery will be in full swing next year when it likely would convene again.
The toll increase will dissuade motorists from making as much trips across the bridge, according to state projections.
With the toll hike, the state projects 13.91 million and 14.43 vehicles will cross the bridge in fiscal year 2013 and 2014, respectively.
With no increase, it was projecting 14.46 million and 15 million, respectively, during those same two fiscal years.
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