(WSDOT photo of road-deck-building inside the tunnel, shared via the WSB Flickr group)

One huge question that’ll finally be answered in the new year: When the Highway 99 tunnel opens, what will the tolls be?

As previewed here – and as subsequently covered by Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom – the state Transportation Commission has just had another talk about tunnel tolls. The major issue involves balancing between the money that tolls have to raise, and the level of tolls that would lead to too much “diversion” – drivers avoiding the tunnel.

The decision is not due until next September, but Kathy e-mailed WSB to ask for more information on how to have a say now – and to ask who locally is involved in advocacy related to the toll-setting. First, if you’re looking for background info:

That’s the main slide deck presented when the Transportation Commission took up the tolling topic last week (you also can see here in PDF; a second deck with analysis is here). As noted on its timeline slide, two major “public outreach” opportunities are planned next year – April through June, after “toll scenario results” are presented, and then a public hearing after the rates are proposed in July.

If you have something you want to say now, here’s how to comment to the commission.

If you or a group you’re involved with is working on advocacy, Kathy and others would like to know – please comment (or e-mail editor@westseattleblog.com and we’ll add to the story).

P.S. If you’re wondering who’s on the commission that will make the decision – here’s that list.

59 Replies to "HIGHWAY 99 TUNNEL TOLLS: What's next?"

  • SoAdmiralK December 21, 2017 (12:52 pm)

    They should pay US to drive through it.  

    • The King December 21, 2017 (6:03 pm)

      I agree. I think I might use it just once to get my $4,250,000,000 worth. 

  • jim December 21, 2017 (1:10 pm)

    Just one more way to bottle neck traffic in an already big mess that is Seattle traffic with a too small tunnel and bureaucracy to collect tolls – and what about out of area cars and trucks ?

  • Also John December 21, 2017 (1:11 pm)

    That’s a great photo.  I enjoy being able to see the construction.  I’m impressed with how the car decking is being installed.  Very efficient.   

  • Jort December 21, 2017 (1:27 pm)

    This tunnel unquestionably is a multi-billion dollar project designed specifically to make it easier for people to drive. These things cost money! And just think — the $200 million to be collected in tolls only pays for 6.25 percent of the total cost of the tunnel! That is one expensive project!

    Here’s another fun FYI: The city of Seattle spent $1.6 million on bike lanes in 2016. That amounts to 0.05 percent of the total cost of this tunnel. Just some food for thought.

    • Mark Schletty December 21, 2017 (2:35 pm)

      Jort- as much as I hate the tunnel, it will probably carry more people in a day or two than all the bike lanes will in a year. Just more food for thought.

      • Alex December 21, 2017 (3:29 pm)

        Also, the expense of bike lanes is artificially low. They aren’t actually “building” bike lanes, they are merely repurposing car lanes by repainting the road. So the bike lanes that go in are actually coming at enormous cost when you factor in the road area they displace, it’s just that paint itself is cheap. I would nonetheless consider any time bikes displace cars to be a considerable “expense.”

      • Jort December 21, 2017 (3:40 pm)

        Indeed, you get what you pay for! If you pay a lot for a road that makes it easier for people to drive, people will drive! I will not argue with you at all on this point! 

        Whether or not this special convenience is worth $2 billion+ is up to you to consider.

        • I Like Bikes December 21, 2017 (8:02 pm)

          Indeed, you get what you pay for!  <

          Really  Jort?  I see “bikers” getting  gold in new bike lanes while paying nothing and the others “lost” access and paid for the privilege.

          • Tsurly December 22, 2017 (10:30 am)

            Ah yes the same old flase argument that cyclists get bike lanes they don’t pay for. Most of us own cars and pay gas taxes and tabs fees just like you.

          • WSB December 22, 2017 (10:43 am)

            We also have had this discussion numerous times here. Google for your favorite link (there are many sources) but bottom line is that gas taxes etc. aren’t even the lion’s share of what pays for roads.

          • Tsurly December 22, 2017 (10:49 am)

            Good point. I also pay property taxes and vote for levys that fund road projects. Does that better support my argument?

  • Maggie December 21, 2017 (1:35 pm)

    I’m mostly wondering how I’m going to get to work since the tunnel doesn’t go downtown. 

    • WSB December 21, 2017 (2:28 pm)

      From the FAQ page

      “Vehicles heading north on SR 99 will have access to downtown Seattle via an off-ramp to a new Alaskan Way street. The new Alaskan Way will provide several east-west connections to downtown. West Seattle residents can also reach downtown using the Spokane Street Viaduct off-ramp to Fourth Avenue South.”

      (The offramp and vicinity/connections are shown here: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/viaduct/Media/Default/Documents/South_Portal.jpg )

      • Moeman December 21, 2017 (2:36 pm)

        That’s all well and good, but how do vehicles get to downtown during time the viaduct closes in early 2019 until the new Alaskan Way opens in mid-2021?

        • KM December 21, 2017 (4:20 pm)

          First Ave, Fourth Ave, I-5.

      • Mark Schletty December 21, 2017 (2:44 pm)

        The latest scenario I have read is that Columbia will be the primary route to and  from Alaskan Way to downtown. In their wisdom the City is going to convert Columbia to a two way street with only one lane in each direction. I don’t think that is going to work very well. And, while 4th works well now, i suspect it no longer will with all the usual 99 traffic that will reroute to 4th.

    • John December 22, 2017 (8:09 am)

      @Maggie….  ‘How will you get downtown’?  You can ride your bike or take a bus.  Pioneer Square is only 5 miles from the Junction. 

  • It's a highway... December 21, 2017 (2:56 pm)

    Is it really a disaster to get off at the stadium area to reach the south end of downtown or Mercer street to reach north end of downtown? If it is, by all means use the many exits off of I-5?

    Personally, I always viewed the Viaduct and the new Tunnel as a thoroughfare, not as a distributor for downtown access.  I think a better use of the new tunnel is for getting people thru the city faster. There are already a lot of main arteries that access downtown from the North/South (Interbay, Westlake, 4th ave, 1st ave, Airport way). 

    • bolo December 21, 2017 (3:28 pm)

      WS to downtown via I-5? Just getting on to I-5 north from WS is problematical most hours of the day now and not likely to get better.

  • Smittytheclown December 21, 2017 (3:18 pm)

    Do we get our toll back when there are collisions ala Battery Street tunnel?

    • Jort December 21, 2017 (3:41 pm)

      No! You will be paying for this tunnel no matter what. But look on the bright side — you’ll have a shiny new tunnel! The second-most expensive road tunnel in United States history. Have fun driving! You paid for it!

  • WS Cit December 21, 2017 (4:15 pm)

    This schedule for SR 520 tolls looks huge, not the 99 tunnel:

    SR 520 Bridge Washington State Transportation Commission


    21 rows · Washington State Transportation Commission … The Commission’s SR 520 tolling

      Midnight to 5:00 a.m. $1.25 $3.25 $1.50
      5 a.m. to 6 a.m. $2.00 $4.00 $2.25
      6 a.m. to 7 a.m. $3.40 $5.40 $3.65
      7 a.m. to 9 a.m. $4.30 $6.30 $4.55


  • MJ December 21, 2017 (6:19 pm)

    In exchange for paying a toll I expect a faster travel time!  Paying a toll to be stuck in a traffic jam is unjust.

  • Junction Lady December 21, 2017 (6:48 pm)

    For the record; I never ride a bike and I never will.  Seattle’s terrain, crazy busy traffic and weather are hardly conducive to riding a bike with any regularity.

    • JN December 21, 2017 (9:01 pm)

      It’s actually very easy to bike around Seattle, I’ve always commuted into downtown by bike because it is more reliable time-wise than the bus or car. Humans are designed to move under our own power, not sit inertly in a steel box, and over the 8 years of riding into downtown it is finally getting safer to bike wherever you need to go. We still need massive improvements regarding infrastructure for cycling, but as a city we are making some headway at least.

      • Canton December 22, 2017 (6:55 am)

        That’s great, you work downtown, and have access via a bike. Believe it or not, there are a very tiny handful of people, that don’t work in the downtown core. Just out of curiosity, do you do your holiday shopping via a bike? Do you ever travel north of the city, say Northgate by bike? How about southcenter or Issaquah? Just curious how long that takes you.

        • John December 22, 2017 (8:16 am)

          @Canton…  I’m in my mid 50’s and I ride from West Seattle to Kirkland everyday, round trip and year round.  We’re very lazy people and we look for any excuse to not exercise.  It takes me 1 hr and 20 minutes each way.  Most people will say they don’t have the time, but they do.  When I ask them about their evenings it typically consist of picking up kids or feeding them…followed by 2 hours of watching TV or some sports game.

          When I go shopping downtown I jump on the ‘C’ bus.  However I try to do my business with local WS businesses.   

          • Canton December 22, 2017 (9:23 am)

            @John, that’s great biking works for you and you have an extra 2 1/2 hrs to commute. Do you by chance, work a desk job? If so, that’s a good way to kill two birds( travel/exercise). I work in construction, so far from lazy, and have to haul tools. Do you perhaps, travel outside that geographical triangle? You ever bike it to, say the ocean, mountains, or lake Chelan?

        • JN December 22, 2017 (9:13 am)

          @Canton, as a matter of fact I do and have done every single one of those scenarios you presented. Thing is, they really are very easy after just a short time on the bike. And Southcenter is just a flat 13 miles away, takes less than an hour. 

          • Tsurly December 22, 2017 (10:24 am)

            Canton makes a very rationale case as someone who needs to drive to work.

            It’s all of the other single occupancy drivers who do work desk jobs that are full of lame excuses that I have sympathy for.

          • Tsurly December 22, 2017 (1:41 pm)

            @John and @JN,  ease up on Canton, who has a strong justification for needing to drive to work. Your arguments are better directed towards the many people who drive solo into downtown and other nearby areas to work desk jobs.

          • Canton December 22, 2017 (5:15 pm)

            Thanks, no worries. I enjoy a healthy debate, and ask questions to see others pov. The remarks just seem elitist in, ” this is how I do it, it’s easy, so you should do it like I do “. I would prefer to travel on horseback, but, being in the extreme minority, won’t ask taxpayers to provide horse lanes.

          • JN December 22, 2017 (6:00 pm)

            I don’t know, I consider it extremely elitist for someone to insist that I spend (what would for me) be a crippling amount of money to own and maintain a motor vehicle. I don’t know why we pay for sidewalks either, pedestrians don’t pay any money towards the transportation fund. And Canton, I’m not saying that construction workers should ride a bicycle everywhere and haul their goods on bike at all. You did, however, neglect to mention that you are in construction in your early comments. The vast, overwhelming majority of people driving, however, do not have heavy goods to haul.

          • Canton December 22, 2017 (6:45 pm)

            I agree, vehicles can be expensive, if not properly maintained. Have nothing against bikes, or growing safe routes. It’s not a one size fits all situation. It’s supposed to be multi-mode improvements. In this industry, a lot of employers require your own reliable transportation. How many sov drivers do you see wearing fluorescent safety gear? If employers would have employees meet at home base, and shuttled workers to job sites. Like Microsoft does with the connector, would be a lot more road space, and a lot more parking in construction zones and residential areas nearby.

  • Sunny.206 December 21, 2017 (7:22 pm)

    I wonder how many people just won’t go downtown anymore? I’ve worked in Georgetown for 25 years and can’t think of anything I will need bad enough to venture into the downtown mess anymore. With online shopping and all the old areas coming back to life urban sprawl comes to mind. Sad to say I’ll be one car or bus rider that won’t been there anymore.

  • Jeannie December 21, 2017 (7:59 pm)

    I submitted a comment – thanks for the link! I am vehemently opposed to a toll.  The tunnel has been plagued by cost and deadline overruns – remember when Bertha was breaking? It is not our responsibility to cover any  $ losses (assuming there ARE losses) that we, the overtaxed taxpayer, did not cause. Plus, not everyone here is wealthy – I certainly am not.

    Our city and local goverments are notorious for misusing funds, too. 

    Finally, can someone please clarify what the reason (I mean, excuse) is for this toll?

    P.S. I actually enjoy visiting downtown Seattle, so this puts a further damper on things.

  • TJ December 21, 2017 (8:17 pm)

    I don’t plan on ever taking the tunnel. The viaduct has a beautiful view and exits to downtown. The tunnel was a deal with developers and property owners who will benefit from it. We must hold the city to its promises on surface street improvements, mainly the adding of lanes and movement of vehicles on Alaska Street along the waterfront. There is a small, unrepresentitive, but vocal group already trying to stop that. And demand that there are no delays in these projects. Council member O’brien needs to be slapped down sternly on his ridiculous talk of tolling surface streets, as we do not toll other roads to pay for another. And to the commenter on shopping downtown, I also do not patronize any businesses there anymore, and actually am hopeful that they don’t survive. The last 3 years I have taken my family to Bellevue Square for their Christmas events. MUCH better crowd, and the police move vagrants out at sight, unlike downtown. 

    • Jethro Marx December 22, 2017 (8:31 am)

      I suppose Bellevue has its appeal, in a gross strip-mall kind of way. I’m curious as to what you mean by a “MUCH better crowd…” -how would you rate the crowd at our own little holiday gatherings on the peninsula? And why would hope businesses fail downtown? These are real places with individual people who run them and will suffer if they fail. Does your blanket condemnation of Seattle have roots in your divergent politics?

       Maybe you should leave West Seattle, presuming you live here, and subject yourself to what looks like greener/whiter/richer/less vagrant-filled pastures on the eastside.


  • Retired almost December 21, 2017 (8:27 pm)

    Proptery taxes are killing us, car tags are outrageous, and now a tunnel tax

    im retiring just in time to avoid  the  mess of getting up to first hill, next step get the hell out of a city that is being systematically destroyed, Bellingham area is looking good

  • steve December 21, 2017 (9:14 pm)

    I’m really gonna miss the viaduct. I like seeing the water whenever I cruise  through. Never again. Now I get to ride in a deep, dark, damp tunnel. Thanks Seattle! Love ya!  Actually, I’ve found a nice alt path so I won’t need the Toll-Tunnel. Still,  gonna miss seeing the bay.  Sad.

  • Rusty December 22, 2017 (12:08 am)

    I’m curious what the disaster evacuation plan is for the city, and how the tunnel impacts it. When an overturned fish truck can cause a 6 hour backup, and all egress routes are bumper to bumper at rush hour, what’s the grand plan to get people out?

      • Canton December 22, 2017 (7:04 am)

        By the document, it looks as though the emergency exit is just stairs to the hopefully unaffected level of the tunnel or holding down in a safe refuge area. No access to surface but entrance or exit. Find it rather hypocritical, that for earthquakes they say a 9.0 or greater only happens about every 2500 years, so don’t worry. But for viaduct, it could happen tomorrow.

        • JVP December 22, 2017 (3:19 pm)

          Tunnels are inherently far, far safer than bridges in quakes.  Much more so a double-decker bridge that is old, failing, and build on soft ground.

          In a huge quake, that tunnel is one of the places I would most like to be.

          • Mark Schletty December 22, 2017 (5:17 pm)

            If what I have read is accurate, this tunnel is partially below the level of the Sound and has a major earthquake fault line ( Seattle Fault) running right through it. It wouldn’t be where I would want to be.

    • redblack December 22, 2017 (7:00 am)

      a really big plunger.

  • Laura December 22, 2017 (8:33 am)

    It seems since the projected toll will produce pittance in comparison to the debt procured, and will have such a negative impact on workers,  perhaps the city/state could instead implement a tax or toll on development downtown (where properties will soar b/c of the tunnel). Those corporations and fat cat landlords/developers will by far be the greatest recepients of financial gain from the the tunnel.  They can afford to pay their share.  My guess is a tax on the sale and building of properties directly impacted by tunnel development could raise more funds than simply placing an unreasonable burden on residents just trying to get to work.

  • TJ December 22, 2017 (11:30 am)

    Jethro, the crowd Im talking about in Bellevue doesn’t consist of intoxicated and drugged out vagrants and aggressive panhandlers all over. What is worse are the loud punks hanging out using vulgar language, smoking weed in plain sight with police around who flat out turn a blind eye to it (I was for legalizing it, but not for the police ignoring illegal public use). Bellevue does have homeless, but they either get in shelter or get moved along. No camping or loitering is tolerated, hence a much better experience. As for “our own little holiday gatherings here on the peninsula”, they are great. I have lived in West Seattle all of my 46 years; not sure how long you’ve been here? 

  • K. Davis December 22, 2017 (1:50 pm)

    Reading the ranting here is amusing if sad at all the misinformation still being spun.   Like the myth that the tunnel was selected for the benefit of “fat cat developers”.  Sigh.  I guess it feels good to delude one’s self.  Our president lives on such an approach of self-lying.  

    Feeling morally superior on your bikes?  Good for you!  Go forth and pedal!  Feeling like you wish the viaduct would stay?  Good for you!  Pretend there was no seismic risk that was addressed.  Hate tolls?  Good for you!  Please do move to that magical place where everything is free and everyone does stuff exactly they way you think they should.  

    It’s funny.  

  • wetone December 22, 2017 (4:44 pm)

    See a lot of people asking/mentioning the commute out of WS to downtown but have seen little talk of the return commute back to WS.  Right now we have multiple lanes from WSfwy such as :  99 northbound (1 lane),  1st ave. exit  (2 lanes), 4th ave. exit (2 lanes that trans to 3 lanes at light),  and then I5.  The return from downtown area to WS  has multiple lanes to 99 now, but not after tunnel opens and a   ( 1 )  lane  on ramp to WSfwy from 1st ave and then I5.   Not even going to mention lower swing bridge as that’s a mess with the openings and port traffic that will soon get worse as T5 builds out. People need to start looking into what’s going on for access in/out of  WS because the future is very ugly once that tunnel opens, unless you can afford the daily tunnel tolls. Seattle needs on outside firm review/audit  on current (real) infrastructure conditions and building practices ; ) and the viaduct could of been retrofit for a fraction of tunnel and that’s a fact, lasting another 75 yrs.

    • Sam-c December 26, 2017 (4:01 pm)

      Ok, i admit, i’m have a hard time understanding what you are trying to say ? Are saying that there won’t be any access to the west seattle bridge from 99 south? The only access will be fromt the 1st ave on ramp, and from I-5? That doesn’t make sense. Hopefully, i’ve misunderstood.  Maybe you’re just saying those are the only access points if you’re avoiding tolls?

  • wscommuter December 22, 2017 (5:35 pm)

    @Laura … as I understand it, actually state law prohibits special local tax zones – Olympia would have to change the law in order for say, City of Seattle, to raise property taxes on the property that will benefit from the viaduct being removed.  Not an expert on this, but I think that is the reason why your idea can’t happen (I agree with you).  

Sorry, comment time is over.