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State again to consider Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll hike

Post by Christian Hill / The News Tribune on Nov. 12, 2012 at 9:00 am with 29 Comments »
November 12, 2012 9:42 am

A citizens advisory committee will meet Tuesday, Nov. 13, to start the process to raise tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge next summer.

The convening of the committee comes more four months after toll increases took effect July 1. The increases were the first in four years.

As I reported extensively in July, when the bridge turned five years old, another rate hike is all but a foregone conclusion. The financial plan used to construct the bridge relied on growing traffic and revenue to make the escalating debt payments; the bridge’s debt service is paid for exclusively by tolls. To meet those payments, officials decided to increase the toll every few years from the time it opened until 2016.

Those projections, however, haven’t borne out, primarily due to the weak economy. Traffic and revenue remain flat. For instance, 14,066,929 vehicles crossed the bridge during the 12-month period ending June 30, according to numbers from the Washington State Department of Transportation that are still being finalized. That’s 1.6 million fewer vehicles than was projected to cross just two years ago, and just 3,500 more vehicles that crossed during the 2011 fiscal year.

The bridge earned $44.1 million in toll revenue during the 2012 fiscal year, just $54,000 more than the prior 12-month period.

Meanwhile, debt payments on the bridge will continue to increase. The total principal and interest payment increases to nearly $54.6 million during the 12-month period that begins July 1, 2013, from $45.7 million this fiscal year, a jump of almost $9 million.

The state can’t continually raise tolls to meet those debt obligations. Before the bridge opened, officials pledged the toll would go no higher than $6. Politicians are known to break promises, but they can’t keep steadily raising tolls to pay their out of the financial jam. At a certain level, the bridge will give up more money in lost traffic than could be gained through higher tolls.

Since the higher tolls took effect July 1, state officials have reported a 1.75 percent reduction in the average number of toll collections each day in July and August compared to that period in 2011, according to information presented to the Washington Transportation Commission last month.

At Tuesday’s meeting, state officials will present updated financial information to guide the advisory committee’s discussion into early next year. It’s charged with making a recommendation to the transportation commission, which is authorized to set toll rates.

All advisory committee meetings are on Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and will be held at the Gig Harbor Civic Center 3510 Grandview St. Here’s the schedule:

• Nov. 13, work session

• Dec. 11, work session

• Jan. 15, meeting and public input

• Feb. 19, meeting and public input

The new toll rates would take effect July 1. The current rates are $4 using Good to Go!, $5 using tollbooths and $6 using pay-by-mail.

Follow Christian Hill on Twitter @TNTchill

 

Leave a comment Comments → 29
  1. MrCarleone says:

    Then you had better renegotiate the terms!

    Keep raising the fee’s, and you keep losing more revenue!

    Monthly fee of a Good to Go has already doubled!

    The ignorance and incompetence of this State and DOT is incredible!

  2. Let’s just propose a sales tax rate increase! Fund the bridge with everyone’s money, instead of just those who use it. Oh wait, that’s what Pierce Transit is trying to do, and it’s failing!

  3. I’m part of the 1.75% , if they raise rates yet again I’ll likely be part of the 3%.

  4. ozdaddy: Those of us that use (the bridge are the ones that voted against. Maybe the tax increase should be limited to those that voted for it ( those from Tacoma ).

  5. BigBlockChev says:

    The abject insanity of this is striking. WSDOT has about 8,000 employees – apparently not one has taken Econ 101 or they would understand that increasing the price of someting means that less will be purchased. To a bureaucrat, that equation is meaningless.

    The debacle here is that (for a reason, Mr. Hill, apparently has no interest in investigating) the serial bonds our genius democrat politicians sold to finance the bridge are not “callable” meaning they cant be refinanced to today’s historic – basically free – rates! That stupid decision is costing 10s of millions of dollars in wasted interest – yet voters in the 27th gleefully send democrats like Larry Sequist back to the legislature…

    In addition to seeling bonds that can’t be refinanced, the state is charging itself sales tax on the construction – robbing the toll account of abouts $50 million which the democrats divert to the general fund to pay for their pet projects like the $2 billion spent annually on services to illegal aliens. This “fraud” was concocted decades ago when the federal government paid for most highway construction. The democrats figured out that charging sales tax on state jobs forced the U.S. government to basically pay a 10% surcharge to the general fund. Now that most road construction is paid bu tolls and gas taxes, the democrats refuse to cancel the scam. Note democrat Kilmer tried to “defer” the payment a few years but did not move to cancel it. So now the toll payers are basically paying $50 million to the general fund as a surcharge tax. Where is Seaquist?

    The third ridiculous aspect of this is that they are charging additional tolls to create a contngency fund so that the bond holders have zero risk of getting paid in the event of a natural disaster, etc. that would put the bridge and tolls out of commission. This despite the fact that the revenue bonds are already backed by the full faith and credit of the state. Requiring a contingency fund is just plain stupid. The bond holders are getting absorbidant interest to compensate them for any risk associated with the state going bankrupt – perhaps not all that far-fetched with the democrats in Olympia.

    The tolls should be reduced to a level that would pay bonds at market interest rates, eliminate the sales tax, and contingency fund. Any shortfall between that amount and the bond payments should be paid by the general fund to compensate the toll payers for the debacle that the state has created.

    The bottom line, Mr. Hill, is that this citizens advisory committee is nothing but a joke. It was concocted to make toll payers think that they were getting a voice. WTC couldn’t care less what this meaningless group of ne’er do wells thinks. They will raise the tolls to protect the bond holders, advance the “hate car” agenda of the democrats, and thumb their noses at businesses, commuters, and property values on the Peninsula.

  6. BigBlockChev says:

    The other glaring absurdity of this, Mr. Hill, is that the bridge was “sold” to the Peninsula as part of a complete corridor enhancement from I-5 to Gig Harbor.

    How can your newspaper sit blocks from the Nalley Valley nightmare and not expose it for the debacle that it is? After literally deaceds of construction, it remains unfinished.

    The design is horrific. Commuters leaving SB I-5 to WB 16 have to negotiate a high speed game of “chicken” at the weave point beginning at the Tacoma Dome. Cars going 60 mph have people stopping in through lanes trying to get over while onbound City Center people are merging. I have witnessed dozens and dozens of accidents at that location and traffic is typically backed up clear to the Dome on any given work night.

    Then they designed another death trap weave at Union. Cars on the viaduct continuing to Gig Harbor are rdeuced to one land around a basically ‘blind curve’ going left while a huge sign blinking above them advises them to turn right! Lomg back-ups here are also now routine.

    Some bureaucrat completely missed the mark in not figuring out that the major flow is from SB I-5. They gave NB I-5 to WB 16 preference – a complete joke. And let’s not forget the “Evel Knievel Memorial Off ramp” at Sprague – a death trap built first in the wrong place!

    The east bound merge at I-5 is also regularly backed-up – another design debacle. Not a night goes by that traffic isn’t backed up on SB I-5 approaching the Dome because the merge is so ineptly designed. And how long are we going to see that big glob of earth at the Puyallup River before we finally get a new bridge? Have these genius engineers ever heard of conrete pilings and abutments?

    The “corridor” actually starts in Fife where, again, WSDOT is clueless at how to get cars SB through Fife at night. Regular back-ups to Hwy 18 during commute hours…after years of work to do what…install carpool lanes!

    Somebody at WSDOT should be held accountable for these projects and insane decision with our tax dollars. We pay the highest gas taxes in the nation. We deserve some decent roads. How about some reporting?

  7. GiveItaRest says:

    BigBlockChev, The sad thing is that the obvious fleecing from this project will continue, as will the fleecing from other projects. Think 520 and the ferry system. Too many complain, but few do anything to change it.

    We missed our chance to hold them accountable and demand better. The only saving grace is that I-1185 passed. Starving the beast is the only way that seems to work to demand better.

  8. “We pay the highest gas taxes in the nation. We deserve some decent roads”

    That’s not true.

  9. nwindependent says:

    BigBlockChev, I couldn’t agree with you more. This insanity makes blood spray out of my eyes!!! My husband drives to Renton every day for work. He is now considering working from home 2 or 3 days a week. He spent more on tolls last year than gas!! and before anyone says to just move. The only decent job he could get required a commute. Believe me, if he could work in Gig Harbor and get paid what he does now, he would. This whole situation sucks but is not surprising especially in this state.

  10. tacomajoe says:

    Take it out of the sales tax increase – oh, wait maybe not…

  11. LEFTISBEST says:

    The answer to the bridge is, only drive west, never drive east. It’s that simple, I do it all the time.

  12. MyBandito says:

    Blame it on Tim Eyman and his voodoo economics.

    The tolling agency should be renamed WayToGoTim.

  13. gonefishin69690 says:

    Big Block said it all. You know, he’s right. Coming onto WB-16 off of Sprague and having to move over 2-3 lanes as to not get forced off at Union, is one of the most “exciting” things to do in Tacoma! lol

  14. taxedenoughintacoma says:

    Kilmer bails on us and leaves his mess for the next state senator to clean up. I hope that is Jan Angel, the single person to have new, out of the box, ideas on how to gin up some new revenues for the bridge.

    The dummies in the 26th just re-elected the guy that caused this mess, Larry Seaquist. Well I wish the voters in the 26th luck if you expect him to do anything for you.

    Seaquist is the king of fees and the reason the legislature doesn’t have to vote on toll increases.

  15. taxedenoughintacoma says:

    bigblock

    Don’t forget the 502 floating bridge. It is costing the taxpayers 17 times more than the original bridge. And that is dollars adjusted by inflation.

    WSDOT spent more on studies and PR than the original bridge cost. And they will come to us this year with a 20 billion $$$$ request for higher gas taxes. I will vote NO. I will not enable the WSDOT with another cent of my money.

  16. taxedenoughintacoma says:

    I hope the toll increase happens at the same time WSDOT and Inslee will try to sell the voters on a $20 BILLION tax increase to fund the broken agency that is WSDOT.

    I will not give one more cent to enable WSDOT.

    Ataboy to those planners in Gig Harbor. They have built stores in GH that keep them from crossing the bridge. Why would they ever want to cross the bridge to shop. They shop in their town or on line (tax free). Can you blame them for not going to Tacoma anymore?

    If they do most feel they need to carry a gun anyway.

  17. Can’t wait to NOT ever go over the bridge again….

  18. ItalianSpring says:

    The state doesn’t have any ballls if they don’t raise it to $20.00 per trip. Come on WA, you can do it!!!

  19. If it has anything to do with DOT or any other incompetent agency in this dizzy state, you know it will always end up wrong and costly. Same old crap. We are out of this stoned out state in less than a year, can’t wait!!

  20. Oh yes, and BigBlocChev, you are correct on all accounts. When the so called engineers designed the new on ramps and off ramps all through I-5 Tacoma and the Nalley Valley, a 15 year old could have told you that it was a horrible design. The dead man’s corner on the east bound 16 Sprague exit pretty much sums up the nightmare……..incompetence and our tax money being burned in a bottomless money pit. You can’t make this stuff up,nobody would believe it!

  21. Kilmer, Seaquist, etc…..they’re nothing but a joke….but now that they are elected they will tell you what ever you wish to hear to remain in their do nothing offices….good bye, good luck….

  22. firemannotfirefighter says:

    This State needs to Pull it’s Head out of the Southern region…. The State relies on Gas Taxes to maintain roads (and other things) as well as tolls to maintain or build bridges (or other things). Then the State and local municipalities go out of their way to encourage car pooling, mass transit and light rail. When those work, guess what; revenue goes down! So what does the State do? Raise the taxes (fees or tolls or whatever you want to call them) again and then continue to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint, or carpool etc…. We are in a VISCOUS cycle where the State needs to prioritize their spending. I guess the type of inbred thinking that this cycle requires is what happens when you get 1 party rule for a generation@

  23. NO to another toll increase.

  24. Don’t use that bridge unless you absolutely have to. I truly feel for those who live on the Peninsula and have to commute.

  25. Stinkfoot says:

    That’s 1.6 million fewer vehicles than was projected to cross just two years ago, and just 3,500 more vehicles that crossed during the 2011 fiscal year.”

    There are several grammatical errors in this one sentence alone.

  26. WhatInThe says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me!

  27. sunlover says:

    Some great comments especially related to how incompetent WSDOT is and will stay until they change department heads and departmental managers she hired. The Queen and her lacky Paula should be ashamed of what they “didn’t” do with all the money they spent. Let me think of a few – Highway 18 cost overrun; Highway 16 cost overrun (taken from snow money); 520 pontoons sinking; hiring a Texas company who couldn’t get their act together on tolling and then actually extending their contract if they gave up code to a software product that isn’t working. Losing 100’s of thousands pay by mail tickets until an audit months(?) after the fact found them to be too old to chase down. No penalty to the great Texas company either as WSDOT has said they will get their money. It is constant with WSDOT. They don’t care as they see it as their “right” of passage, because of who they are and what they do, and we citizens don’t know any better.

    The Tolls will go up and the traffic will go down. The tolls will again go up and the traffic will again go down. They will be losing money each year. They can undo their screwed up financing scheme with the bonds but they choose to ignore that avenue and rather run up the tolls to those who travel.

    Their Pay by Mail program has not shared how “well” they are doing. I wonder why. They hired a bunch of administrative judges (laid off liquor store employees) to deal with the ones who do not pay in 80 days. No word how that program is doing.

    WSDOT management should be ashamed but they are not. They think this is their job whether they do it right or not. They were appointed or asked to do it, not whether they could do it. That simple question was missing when they took the job. But would they have anwered it truthfully? We can see the results of that answer daily with the number of orange cones, traffic detours, all waiting for our daily commute to pay more to get to work taking longer each day.

  28. A lawsuit is both appropriate and on the horizon. It is unconstitutional to set in place rising obligations (to be borne by taxpayers) that cannot be renegotiated. It’s called taxation without representation. Also, Chief Justice Roberts (in his Obamacare opinion) made sure that the “fee is not a tax” nonsense is dead forever.

    Or maybe we should start an initiative to shut down the whole tolling scheme and dump the bonds on the state as it should be. That’s how we finance the ferries and there is generally a choice about using them.

    I cannot wait until I get a jury duty letter or a court summons. Either one better come with a pre-paid debit card.

  29. Belatrix says:

    Those that don’t have to cross keep cutting back. Those that must cross, must cross. We feel sorry for them. As for jury duty, one is provided with a buss pass initially. You can get another each time you leave the courthouse. BigBlockChev has voiced soooooooooooooooo many of the citizen’s frustrations with this fiasco which keeps on going like the energizer bunny.

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