Tunnel tolls will likely be no more than $1.25 for cars

After 2 years of work an advisory committee suggests Highway 99 tunnel toll prices.
Big Bertha: boring no more

Big Bertha: boring no more WSDOT

Digging is stalled on the Highway 99 Tunnel project, but tolling recommendations for the unfinished underground roadway moved forward on Wednesday.

An advisory committee put the final touches on a report that suggests base toll rates of $1 and peak rates of $1.25. Peak times are weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Under the proposed plan, rates would rise by 1.3 percent each year. The tolls would generate an estimated $1.085 billion in gross revenue over 30 years.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program Advisory Committee on Tolling and Traffic Managementwill forward their recommendations to a host of officials and government bodies. Those include the governor, Legislature, Federal Highway Administration, Washington State Department of Transportation, the mayor of Seattle and the Seattle City Council. The Washington State Transportation Commission is ultimately responsible for setting toll prices.

The committee, which currently has 13 members, examined eight tolling scenarios with rates ranging from as low as $0.45 to as high as $4. 

The rates were designed with an eye toward limiting the number of drivers avoid the tunnel to dodge the toll. Based on 2017 traffic projections, the amount of vehicles diverted from the tunnel as result of the charge will be 20 percent at peak times and 38 percent at off-peak times. If the tunnel were un-tolled the committee report predicts that about 22,100 vehicles would pass through it during the afternoon peak period. This means that with the $1.25 toll in place, 3,500 of those vehicles will be diverted onto city streets or Interstate 5.

“We are wary of the potential for unintended impacts from diversion on the community,” the committee's co-chairs wrote in the report.

Without increased transit service along the Highway 99 corridor, the committee warns that diverted traffic would “result in increased traffic volumes in downtown Seattle and particularly near the tunnel portals, which would lead to delays.” In addition to transit, the report says “adaptive” signals that adjust timing based on traffic volumes, separated cycle tracks and electronic signs could help decrease congestion. 

The recommendations also include higher rates for trucks. Medium trucks would pay about $3.13 at peak times and $2.50 at off-peak times. Large trucks would pay $3.50 peak and about $4.38 off-peak prices.

Over a 30-year timespan, the committee assumes $350 million of toll revenue will be used for toll collection costs and $200 million will help pay for tunnel construction. The committee estimates that another $200 million to $225 million will be needed to cover financing costs for the construction and that $160 million would pay for tunnel operations and maintenance. These expenses leave about $150 million to $175 million of the total revenue, or $5 million to $6 million per year, to fund transit improvements.

Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Maud Daudon and Bellevue Mayor Claudia Balducci co-chaired the committee. Other members included Sung Yang, chief of staff for King County Executive Dow Constantine, Kurt Beckett, deputy CEO for the Port of Seattle, and local pedestrian advocate Peg Staeheli. The committee has worked on the recommendations since December 2011.

The Highway 99 tunnel will run from Sodo to South Lake Union and has been scheduled to be open for traffic in December 2015. But the machine digging the tunnel currently has a damaged bearing seal and has been stopped beneath Pioneer Square for over two months. WSDOT says they’re waiting for the project’s contractor to provide an updated estimate on when the project will be completed.

Bill Lucia writes about Seattle City Hall and politics for Crosscut. He can be reached at bill.lucia@crosscut.com and you can follow him on Twitter @bill_lucia.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Wed, Feb 19, 10:32 p.m. Inappropriate

$1.25? For how long? Fine make it a law and keep the tolling commisson away from it. Otherwise you are just speculating

Cameron

Posted Wed, Feb 19, 11:58 p.m. Inappropriate

It is presumed that a witness is telling the truth until they are proven to have lied. From then on, the jurors cannot assume that they are telling the truth.

The tunnel project has lied so many times to the press that they can no longer assume that they are telling the truth. Ask the spokespersons a simple question: "Would you be willing to donate a month's slaary to the chairty of your choice if it turns out your are wrong?" I will guarantee that they will try to laugh you off; try to hold them to it.

Trust me: they are lying.

Dick Falkenbury

PS--Your job is not to be a cheerleader of the government but a constant questioner and even doubter.

Posted Thu, Feb 20, 7:51 a.m. Inappropriate

It might be a good idea to make the Highway 99 Tunnel free for the first year in order to get people in the habit of using it instead of clogging the other streets. Once people have established the habit, then the $1.25 could be set in motion. -Kate Martin

Posted Thu, Feb 20, 12:14 p.m. Inappropriate

That's a good idea Kate. I personally am looking forward to the completion of this project and will pay whenever, but I assume that there will be many who bristle at having to pay at first until they see the benefit.

BarExam

Posted Thu, Feb 20, 9:36 a.m. Inappropriate

How much did we pay for this committee to create this study, and why does it matter at all when the committee is not setting the rates? Since this is not the final word on what tolls will actually be, why is it even a story? Sounds like a trial balloon to see how the public reacts. I am among those that would not use the tunnel, period, so whatever they may decide to charge is irrelevant.

mspat

Posted Thu, Feb 20, 11:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Why are tolls being used to fund transit?

Why should motorists subsidize transit users? Let transits users pay their own way like motorists do.

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Feb 20, 12:44 p.m. Inappropriate

I double dog dare you to show me how moterists pay their own way.

andy

Posted Thu, Feb 20, 11:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I paid for my own car with my own money. And paid sales taxes, license fees, etc. for my car.

I pay for my own gasoline. And I pay gas tax when I buy gasoline.

I pay for my own car insurance, and whenever I use my insurance, sales tax is paid on the repairs to my car.

I pay for my own maintenance on my car. And I pay sales tax on that maintenance.

I pay for parts for my car (tires, batteries, etc.). And I pay sales tax on those parts.

I also pay tolls, parking fees, parking taxes, MVET, car tabs, etc.

Who do you think pays for motorists' cars, gasoline, maintenance, insurance, tires, etc.? Did taxpayers help pay those costs for me? Why didn't I get the check?

Lincoln

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Fine, you pay for your car. So do I.

So you are saying that your gas taxes and other car taxes pay for all road and highway expenses?

andy

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

"So you are saying that your gas taxes and other car taxes pay for all road and highway expenses? "

Including tolls, absolutely, with plenty of revenue left over to pay for other things, as well.

Lincoln

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 10:36 a.m. Inappropriate

"Fine, you pay for your car. So do I."

But transit riders do NOT pay for their buses and trains.

Do they?

Lincoln

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 10:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Sir, you are sadly misinformed. Now you have displyed to the entire world your ignorence.

andy

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 4:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Andy, you are sadly misinformed. Now you have displayed to the entire world your ignorance.

Lincoln

Posted Tue, Feb 25, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Hooray, you found a spelling mistake! Perhaps you should stick to that level of intellectual thought.

If not maybe you should read this, and try to lift yourself out of stoopidity.

http://taxfoundation.org/article/gasoline-taxes-and-tolls-pay-only-third-state-local-road-spending

"Gasoline Taxes and Tolls Pay for Only a Third of State & Local Road Spending".

I know you won't read this, since that would cause too much cognitive dissonance.

andy

Posted Tue, Feb 25, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Andy, did you read the report from taxfoudation.org? Because it says that state and local gas taxes, user fees and vehicle registrations pay for roughly half of the cost roads.

http://taxfoundation.org/article/gasoline-taxes-and-user-fees-pay-only-half-state-local-road-spending.

However, when you add in federal gas tax that is redistributed to states and localities,the percentage funded from gas tax, user fees and vehicle registrations increases to approximately 70%.

Talk about cognitive dissonance!

Posted Wed, Feb 26, 9:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Where did 70% come from? My understanding is just what that article says: 50%.

50% is long way from 100% as Lincoln claimed...

andy

Posted Wed, Feb 26, 10:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Andy, first you post a link to an article that you say indicates that only one third of road costs is paid by local gas taxes and user fees. But when I checked the website the title of the article said one half.

And if actually read the article you cited you would discover that an additional $28 billion in gas tax revenues collected by the federal government from automobile drivers is redistributed to states and local government. Add that to the 77 billion in state and local taxes and you get $105 billion .

Divide that by the $153 in total road expenditures and you get 68.6% which considering you rounded 50% down to 33% seems fair.

Posted Wed, Feb 26, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

You are adding in the Highway Trust Fund money. You can't do that.
Also, the freeways were initially built from general fund money, before 1956.

We are talking about state and local roads and highways. This tunnel is a state highway.

Anyhoo, motorists do not pay the "entire cost of roads with plenty left over". Far from it.

Also, I am doing the favor of not adding in the tax breaks, subsidies, and costs of military protection provided to the oil industry, or the huge upcoming costs of global warming. That would be really depressing.

It is time motorist pay our own way.

andy

Posted Wed, Feb 26, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Also, motor fuel sales are exempt from the state sales tax!

Like it or not, Washington state finances education and other essential services through the sales tax. Why are fuel sales exempt from this responsibilty?

If you consider the fuel tax as a user fee, fuel sales must then comply with the sales tax, contributing to the general fund, just as most other products do.

andy

Posted Wed, Feb 26, 11:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Andy, first you posted a link to an article that doesn't seem to exist. The real article on the website cited said that local gas taxes and user fees account for 50% not 33% of the revenues that fund roads. If you want to be taken seriously, I suggest you don't blatantly try to be misleading.

Second,the article correctly states that in addition to the $77 billion in local taxes and fees from motorists, $28 billion of the $153 billion in local road expenses is covered by the federal government and comes from revenues derived from the sale of gasoline to motorists i.e. the federal gas tax motorists pay at the pump. How is this not a part of the revenue stream provided by motorists?

You want to make a big deal about not paying sales tax on gasoline. But at the same time you don't want to include the sales tax collected on auto sales parts or repairs. This is a significant part of sales tax revenues. Look at the impact of declining auto sales in 2008-10 on the state deficit.

Finally, since 86% of households in Seattle own automobiles, I would guestimate that the bulk of sales tax and general revenues that support roads come from folks that drive cars. Everyone is dependent on roads whether they drive,bike, bus or walk (goods in the stores aren't helicoptered in). Just because you personally don't seem to like autos you can't make up your own bogus facts and ignore the reality that 68.8% of the revenue to offset road expense comes from motorists.

Posted Thu, Feb 27, 1:39 p.m. Inappropriate

The two articles you mention are from the same source, just two different years. These numbers change from year to year. I was not trying to be misleading, I just didn't notice the year. I am fine with the 50% number from 2014.

The fed money is from the Highway Trust Fund which pays for a portion federal freeways, not state roads and highways. We are talking state/local highways and roads here. The federal highway system is another issue. I personally think the federal highway system should be completely privatized into a turn pike system paid for entierly from user fees.

I am sure you know that sales tax on products and services in Washington state is for the general fund, not to finance any specific projects as a user fee would be. For example, sales tax on candy sales does not go exclusivly to the encouragement of candy consumption. Auto sales are taxed as they should be with the money going to the general fund. Auto fuel should be taxed the same way, in addition to the fuel tax, which is a user fee. We need both as this is the only fare way. I am fine with the food sales tax exemption since food is an absolute nessicity.

Now you are assuming that I don't like automobiles... What gave you that idea? We own two cars and we drive every day. I could not live in Seattle without cars. Also, I am fine with paying some money out of non-user fees for local roads just for the reason you mentioned.

I am just sick and tired of people lying about the financing and saying that motorist pay their own way and transit/ped/bikes do not.

I am coming to the belief that this is just a deliberate, calculated lie by transit haters.

andy

Posted Thu, Feb 27, 4:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Andy, take some time and read the articles. The Feds $28 billion listed in the 2014 article comes from federal gas tax on motorists and goes to reimburse state and local governments to cover a portion of the $153 billion they collectively spend at the local level on roads. If it is reimbursement for federal highways then $28 billion needs to be subtracted from the $153 billion in local expenses. Either way 68.8% seems to be the accurate number. A number that is higher than you suggested by a factor of over 2x,

As for sales tax on auto related expense, I never stated that it shouldn't be collected and used for other general purposes. Only that it comprises a significant portion of sales tax revenues. In fact, automobile buyers pay an extra three tenths of one percent sales tax at purchase for roads.

To add a 10% sales tax ($.30+ cents per gal)on top of some of the highest existing gas taxes in the country to gasoline as you suggest would likely result in lower gas sales as people would use less gas and more transit thus reducing the amount of funds to pay for roads and to subsidize transit (and yes motorist generated taxes/fees are used to subsidize transit). Motorists should and do pay for lions share of road costs as well as subsidize transit. But they should not have to pay for it all.

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 6:06 a.m. Inappropriate

How do you know 'transit' in this case means 'mass transit'?
Maybe the money will go to road improvements, pedestrian bridges, or bike lanes.

Also, I find it incredulous that someone does not understand how mass transit helps the public at large. Do you want all those people on the busses to get in their cars instead to make traffic more difficult for you? Then your driving habits should help subsidize their actions.

jeffro

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 8:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Do you want all those people in cars on buses? If not, then your busing habits should help subsidize their cars.

The fact is that transit riders require huge tax subsidies. Motorists pay huge taxes. The more people who take transit, the higher everyone's taxes would have to be to subsidize those increases in transit service. In fact, if nobody owned cars, there would be no tax revenues from motorists, so sales tax rates, or some other tax rates would have to increase dramatically, or transit fares would have to jump dramatically, or both.

Transit riders TAKE. Motorists GIVE. You can thank motorists for keeping your taxes and your transit fares low.

Lincoln

Posted Tue, Feb 25, 2:07 p.m. Inappropriate

About 20% of Seattle commuters use the bus and another 4% commute by bike. Now imagine if that 24% all jumped in their cars every day. Yea. Common sense.

It's a common understanding that transit does not pay for itself and that for a city or county there are benefits to providing public transportation for individual transit users, for car drivers, and for the general commerce.

If you think car drivers pay for all the maintenance and upkeep of roadways and related infrastructure you are sadly mistaken.

Treker

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »