What will the Highway 99 tunnel tolls be? Draft recommendations focusing on $1 to $1.25

January 15, 2014 at 9:12 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 29 Comments

While WSDOT and its contractor deal with the issue of why the Highway 99 tunnel machine is stalled and how to get it unstalled – another matter is moving forward: Deciding how the tunnel will be tolled. The committee working on the issue met Tuesday afternoon, somewhat overshadowed by a major transportation announcement made elsewhere, so we followed up today.

The materials from the meeting are now available online. A final recommendation won’t be voted on until next month’s committee meeting, but right now, this slide deck and this text document lay out the case for this potential draft recommendation: $1 midday, overnight and weekends; $1.25 during peak periods, 6-9 am and 3-6 pm weekdays. To reduce “diversion,” they’re also looking at dropping it to 75 cents in the off-peak daytime hours, with a possible one-hour extension to weekday pm peak.

This would raise $1 billion over 30 years. Here’s how that might break out:

The committee is described as concerned with the cost of collecting the tolls – fully a third of what they bring in. And it’s looking at other ways to discourage diversion, including recommending studies of “regional tolling.” This may still evolve between now and next month’s meeting, February 19th.

29 Comments

  1. ONE DOLLAR or Paypass, who has quarters and wants to slow down the 1000 cars behind them getting change. NO BRAINER

    Comment by no mom — 9:47 pm January 15, 2014 #

  2. I find it offensive that I have to pay money as I descend into a deep wet hole.

    Comment by DTK — 9:50 pm January 15, 2014 #

  3. So..all the cars currently parked each morning on the N 99 onramp will now be taking I5 N.

    And we have to pay a toll..

    Comment by B — 10:15 pm January 15, 2014 #

  4. I’m from the east coast, where paying for the roads this way has existed since the beginning of time…check out the Massachusetts turnpike..and make sure you have money if you go there, ’cause you’re gonna pay. Garden State Pkwy. in NJ? Same..Turnpike in NY? Pay…

    a buck would be what I would say…, although I don’t know how they’re gonna implement this without slowing down traffic.

    Besides..at this rate there will never be a tunnel…they actually have to finish it first

    Comment by JanS — 12:31 am January 16, 2014 #

  5. Jan – The state has done all its tolling in recent years via Good To Go – either you get a sticker for your windshield and open an account so they can deduct, or else they send you a bill. I used the 520 bridge recently for the first time since it became a toll bridge, and was curious to see how the “we’ll send you a bill” worked. I should have documented it – they sent a comparatively MASSIVE amount of paper, the envelope, the bill, an envelope to use if I wanted to send payment back in the mail – I paid online and didn’t need the envelope, so there was a fistful of paper headed for recycling, which is a little better than throwing away, but still a waste of resources. Having seen all that, I guess the $350 million price tag for processing $1 billion in tolls sort of makes sense, but still.

    Comment by WSB — 12:39 am January 16, 2014 #

  6. I used Good To Go on the 520 bridge for a year before moving to WS. After a few initial hiccups it worked flawlessly at taking my money using the windshield sticker.

    Protip: register your car’s license plate with your online account so it is automatically deducted in the event that your sticker doesn’t register. Very frustrating to get a paper bill and be charged the higher rate! (This happened to me twice early on when the system was being tweaked.)

    I’m just glad to hear they are talking in the dollar range instead of $5.

    Comment by JK — 5:42 am January 16, 2014 #

  7. I’m also glad they’re talking a buck, buck twenty five range–even though this bridge will have less capacity than the old one (Will the highway they’ll eventually build make up the difference?)and the express buses will not have a clear shot to the middle of downtown upon departure from the new 99.

    @JanS–at least in those east coast states, the cities with help from the state were smart enough to build more ROW mass transit options so that people are not as reliant on the driving options than this city and state.

    Comment by East Coast Cynic — 8:15 am January 16, 2014 #

  8. I’m as cheap as they come and I find the proposed tolls totally reasonable. Luckily I don’t take 99 daily but would certainly not avoid it if I had to pay $1. I’m more irritated about Metro’s proposed increases than this toll for my whopping four mile ride to the office from home.

    Comment by CMP — 8:18 am January 16, 2014 #

  9. I can probably afford $1-$1.25, so if that’s high enough to keep the complainers out of my brand new tunnel, it’s a win-win for me.

    Comment by KBear — 9:11 am January 16, 2014 #

  10. By the time this tunnel is done I guarantee the tolls will go up from all the cost involved for build and to maintain it. Wouldn’t be surprised to see it easily double the $1.25 their talking now. Not bad for a small piece of roadwork that has no room for growth, handles less traffic than we have now and will make getting out of W/S more fun:( Still have the waterfront build and that should be interesting to see if that shakes the tunnel around. I don’t mind paying for GOOD SMART improvements but this is about as bad as it gets.

    Comment by wetone — 9:27 am January 16, 2014 #

  11. @WSB, That is unfortunate that they have to send all that paper. Seems like an opportunity to reduce costs. But the impact of your drive (materials, fuel, emissions, infrastructure, noise, etc.) was probably way more detrimental to the environment than those few pieces of paper.

    Comment by david — 10:05 am January 16, 2014 #

  12. Tolls should adjust dynamically to maintain 40mph or better flows through the tunnel, similar to the HOT lanes on 167. At least that way, we will get something for our money (congestion free bypass of downtown). Worse than paying $1.25 would be paying $1.25 and still sitting in traffic.

    Comment by david — 10:10 am January 16, 2014 #

  13. Yeah, of course. Had to make the trip that night, sorry, related to my other role as “mom.” We have dramatically reduced our fossil-fuel burning – I quit my downtown-commute job six years ago when we opened this home-based business, and that’s, let’s see, at least 1,500 fewer roundtrips between here and the north end of downtown (where all the TV stations are). – TR

    Comment by WSB — 10:20 am January 16, 2014 #

  14. I’m on the side of, sure, fine, let’s have a toll. I didn’t favor the decision to build it, but now that it’s going forward, I do want to see it supported at least in part by user fees like tolling. Dynamic either by speed or time of day seems reasonable to try. However, my biggest concern (and one mentioned by the committee, it looks like) is the cost of collecting the toll fees. Looks like 1/3 of the revenues will go towards the cost of collecting the revenues! That feels wrong. Options?: Either get that cost down somehow, or raise the toll (overall revenues) so that it’s a bit more worthwhile to do this in the first place.

    Comment by DF — 11:33 am January 16, 2014 #

  15. So what happens when drivers avoiding the toll all converge on I-5? This spotty and inconsistent approach to tolling will only create more congestion as drivers avoid the tolled routes. Washington needs to take a serious look at how New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts manage tolling.

    Comment by Nick — 1:22 pm January 16, 2014 #

  16. um, Shouldn’t there be a plan to actually FINISH the tunnel first?

    Comment by sophista-tiki — 1:27 pm January 16, 2014 #

  17. I was in favor of building the tunnel as opposed to the only plan dumber….”Surface-Transit”…as if 100,000+ vehicles on surface streets would “improve” the waterfront for anyone other than the folks enjoying the fancy new restaurants/offices/condos that will go in…and isn’t it ridiculous that The Stranger once opposed The Seattle Commons Park (which would have been largely paid for by Paul Allen) on the grounds that it would “just create a nice lawn for rich people”…but I think it’s asinine to expect working people to pay for it through tolls. If you’ll set the wayback machine even further, you’ll see we were able to eliminate tolling with a progressive motor vee-hickle excise tax….then along came Tim Eyeman to make sure Washington has the most REgressive system of taxation in the land. Barf.

    Comment by Fiwa Jcbbb — 2:34 pm January 16, 2014 #

  18. I still marvel at the “less capacity/fewer lanes than now” argument by those who don’t like the tunnel.

    All together now: “The Battery St. Tunnel has only two – 2 – lanes”. The new tunnel will have also have two lanes – but wider, better engineered lanes. Capacity will be the same, and hopefully, somewhat better. I know … because it isn’t perfect or sprinkled with pixie dust or something where we all ride bikes and cars are banned, it must be snarked about … but c’mon …

    Deal with it folks … notwithstanding Bertha’s current glitch, the project is being built. Move on.

    Comment by wscommuter — 6:39 pm January 16, 2014 #

  19. I find it interesting that they are setting a reasonable toll on the tunnel so they won’t cause too many drivers to divert to other routes. Compare this to the 520 toll, which was set at a prohibitively high rate, to purposely divert traffic to I-90. That way, they can claim that the reason for tolling I-90 is to “relieve congestion” on it and balance traffic flow between the two bridges. Interesting, but depressing, since the ploy seems to be working.

    Comment by dcn — 7:48 pm January 16, 2014 #

  20. How about no tolls, Instead low income (free),Buses
    10 Cents, Raise car tabs $500.00 and sales tax to
    12%. Sound Familiar.

    Comment by D.D.S. — 9:37 pm January 16, 2014 #

  21. @wscommuter: You’re wrong and here’s why: containerized truck traffic can’t use the new tunnel. That’s the 25% less traffic that Big Dig II can’t manage, because they’re simply too big and there’s no mid-downtown access. All those big ol’ containers we all see on the cargo ships gotta go somewhere, and it’s currently on the Viaduct. That’s why the Port of Seattle lost a couple of major shippers to Tacoma, since they have yet to decide to so impair traffic from their waterfront.

    Yes, it’s happening and no, there is nothing to do now but get on with it. Keep that in mind when the traffic isn’t just worse through this tunnel that it was on the Viaduct, but *also* worse on I-5 and surface streets downtown. Along with the magical thinking that you can just tax the “rich” for every alleged social “need” apparently comes the notion that you can pair down the capacity of a major traffic artery and greater congestion won’t occur there AND elsewhere.

    Comment by DarkHawke — 10:55 pm January 16, 2014 #

  22. @DarkHawke: that seems like a silly excuse. Harbor Island and Marginal trucks have nearly direct access to I-5, I-90 and downtown by surface roads (via Spokane Viaduct, over by Martinez, and Alaska). Sure, it might be harder to get to the areas just north of downtown, but what was the alternative? Rebuild the viaduct?

    Comment by Thomas — 7:36 am January 17, 2014 #

  23. Ain’t never gonna be a tunnel…at least one with two exits. Might as well make it $100 per car.

    Comment by Buck — 7:57 am January 17, 2014 #

  24. “What was the alternative? Rebuild the viaduct?”

    Thomas, that’s just it. What the anti-tunnel folks refuse to understand is that rebuilding or retrofitting the viaduct just wasn’t feasible. It WAS considered, and it was rejected. Besides, a rebuild would have required shutting down Hwy 99 for YEARS. So, if you’re against the tunnel, that means you’re in favor of the surface street option. That was the only other possible choice.

    Comment by KBear — 9:26 am January 17, 2014 #

  25. There were and still are many options: cut and cover, rebuild the viaduct, build a new viaduct, bridge over water, all would have been about half the cost of the tunnel along with many things the tunnel will never do, and less risk. But we can thank Gregoire and Nickels for pushing so hard for the most expensive, highest risk, smallest capacity, no way for future growth, ingress egress access options, there was. That’s what happens when you never have to worry about accountability. Tunnel was a step backwards for anyone that needs to get around or through the Seattle area, but the developers and cruise ship tourist will like it.

    Comment by wetone — 9:48 am January 17, 2014 #

  26. DarkHawke – you aren’t making any sense. Those same container trucks can’t use the Battery St. tunnel now. They do NOT use the viaduct, because the current configuration of SR 99 doesn’t allow access. You’re simply mistaken.

    Likewise, what I’ve seen of the newly configured Alaskan Way planned, I am not convinced that traffic will be worse. The loss of the Seneca exit hurts, but it appears to me to be more than offset by new access from the waterfront. Most of us W. Seattle folks accustomed to taking the viaduct now, will simply exit onto Alaskan way (which will be 6 lanes + bus lanes) and then turn right into downtown.

    Comment by wscommuter — 10:05 am January 17, 2014 #

  27. Let me start by apologizing…I’m not trying to start a flame war.

    Why aren’t we tolling 99 already?
    We’re tolling 520 before it’s finished, why not 99?

    And what is this committee smoking, cuz I’d like some. $1.25? HA HA, it’ll be $5 minimum before it’s finished!

    Comment by dhsea — 1:19 pm January 17, 2014 #

  28. I find it interesting that the Narrows Bridge cost less than $800 million and since we have no other way around except for ferry crossing (or a ridiculous circumnavigation route through Shelton) we are held hostage by paying a flat $4.25/%5.25/%6.25 toll to “pay for the bridge”. Yet this Alaska Tunnel project is budgeted for $4.25 BILLION and those using it only have to pay a buck. Lame.

    Comment by Keyboard Cowboy — 6:03 pm January 17, 2014 #

  29. This just in…pieces of PVC pipe and steel pipe found in Berthas cutter, and now a possible boulder in the way. Bertha has been idle for six weeks after completing about 1000′ of digging, and hasn’t even approached any “fill” area yet. I wouldn’t be surprised tolls exceeding five times original prediction assuming this boondoggle ever gets completed. Just my .02

    Comment by Born on Alki — 6:11 pm January 21, 2014 #

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