A peninsula lawmaker is proposing a way to pay off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge without any further increases in toll rates.
To do that, the legislation drafted by Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, would rely on loans from the state’s motor vehicle fund until the bridge is paid off in 2030. It would then keep tolls on the bridge until those loans are repaid.
Angel, a former Realtor and banker, likens the legislation that was introduced Thursday to extending a home mortgage.
She earlier proposed selling the naming rights to bridges and highways as a way to raise money for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
Angel told The Kitsap Sun that legislation is dead.
“I’m going to try to go another route,” she told the newspaper.
Her bill would cap at $60 million the amount of toll revenue that would go toward debt payments on the bridge. The rest would come as a loan from the state’s motor vehicle excise account, its chief highway fund.
The bridge is scheduled to be paid off in 2030, and Angel proposes to keep tolls on the bridge after that to repay those loans. The state typically has removed tolls from bridges, including the single Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the State Route 520 floating bridge and the Hood Canal Bridge, after they are paid off, but the decision ultimately rests with state lawmakers, said Patricia Michaud, spokeswoman for the state tolling division.
State official financed the project by backloading the debt in an effort to keep tolls as low as possible when the new span opened in July 2007. Officials assumed increases in tolls — the financing plan anticipated $1 toll increases every three years to a maximum of $6 in 2016 — and usage from population growth would generate enough money to make the escalating debt payments.
But the annual traffic count has remained flat and revenue has only increased following a toll hike. The count has hovered around 14 million a year and is projected to end the current budget period at the lowest level since the eastbound span opened nearly six years ago.
The bridge is projected to take in $60.6 million in toll revenue during the current budget year thanks to a toll hike that took effect in July, the first increase in four years. Officials are likely to approve a toll increase next month of 25 cents for each of the next two summers.
It remains to be seen how lawmakers react to dipping into the state’s highway fund to help make debt payments on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge when the fund can’t pay for needed transportation projects. House Democrats unveiled a $10 billion transportation package earlier this week to help close that gap.
There’s been growing concern that toll revenue alone won’t be sufficient to raise enough revenue as the debt payments on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge continue to increase without having to raise them above $6 or find more money somewhere else.
The bill has not been assigned a number as of yet.
State transportation officials did not have immediate comment on the bill.
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