Highway 99 tunnel-toll hearing in West Seattle not much of a draw

(WSDOT image – tunnel’s south portal is toward lower center)

By Randall Hauk
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

The Washington State Transportation Commission held an open house and public input meeting at High Point Community Center last night, seeking public comment on tolling proposals for the Highway 99 tunnel.

It was the second of three Seattle meetings between the commission and residents. Commissioner Roy Jennings opened the meeting by reminding those in attendance that the decision to toll the tunnel had already been made and was no longer up for debate. The commission instead was seeking input on a trio of toll-rate options.

Though all three plans are projected to meet the project’s fiscal obligations by 2045, they differ in price fluctuations throughout the day, as well as how increases are scheduled.

The highest toll rate of $2.25 is slated for weekdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in all three options.

Otherwise, tolls would range from $1.00 for late nights and weekends to $1.75 depending on the time the vehicle passes the toll point upon exiting the tunnel.

More notable was the difference in the handling of toll increases over time. Option A proposes a 3% increase every three years, beginning in 2022. Option B plans 3.5% increases every year between 2020 and 2024. Option C has just three increases, but at a 5% rate.

Additionally, drivers without a Good to Go! pass on their vehicle will see an additional $2 per toll when their toll bill arrives in the mail.

The tunnel, set to open as soon as this fall, will initially be free to use while tolling equipment and systems are tested.

With only three community members present for the hearing, Jennings was able to ask each attendee directly for their personal preference.. While there was not overwhelming enthusiasm for any of the options, the West Seattle contingent was united unanimously against Option B.

Despite a low turnout for the second consecutive night, senior financial analyst Carl See says the commission has already been receiving public comments online and that none of the three options has become the clear public favorite. See also noted that a significant number of comments centered on “no tolls.”

A feedback form on the commission’s website, available since May 22, will continue to be open for public comment through (updated) July 17, as explained here.

The final public meeting will be held tonight at the Phinney Neighborhood Center (6532 Phinney Ave. N.), with the open house beginning at 5:30 p.m. and the meeting at 6:30 p.m. The commission is expected to decide next month on one option for the last round of public review, before the final toll-setting decision sometime in the fall.

33 Replies to "Highway 99 tunnel-toll hearing in West Seattle not much of a draw"

  • Rick June 6, 2018 (10:17 am)

    We’re screwed anyway. I understand the apathy. In these parts you can vote no many times until you vote correctly. And even if your vote wins, the powers that be will just purchase a judge that will overturn/nullify/whatever. Stay home and watch Law and Order marathons. Or block 2nd Ave (but not the bike lanes!). Can you say “ST3?”

    • Apey June 6, 2018 (12:35 pm)

      My thoughts exactly, Rick!

  • fiz June 6, 2018 (10:36 am)

    Low turnout?  Maybe because we don’t plan to use it.

  • Vilagegreen June 6, 2018 (10:53 am)

    Tolls seem reasonable. That’d be great if I was the only one using it. Quick commute! 

  • Alex June 6, 2018 (10:55 am)

    Making us choose between 3 identical options… Such a transparent attempt to strengthen the appearance that the community agreed to be tolled.  .Yes, we get it, cars are bad and drivers should be punished. Don’t insult us by making us ask for it though. 

    • chemist June 6, 2018 (2:09 pm)

      The options look pretty different from what the 2014 Advisory Committee picked too.  In their models, PM peaks of around $2.25 resulted in diversion rates above 30%, which is why they wanted to keep rates low.the Advisory Committee on Tolling and Traffic Management (ACTT Committee) supports a tolling strategy similar to Scenario 7, which meets the $200 million funding target for the program while minimizing diversion. Toll rates studied in Scenario 7 ($1 tolls 24-hours per day with a $1.25 toll during the 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. peak periods) generate more than $1 billion in gross revenue over 30 years. In addition to paying for the required capital contribution, this revenue can pay for expenses such as toll collection costs, operations and maintenance of the tunnel and transportation system improvements needed to address diversion.

      • chemist June 6, 2018 (3:01 pm)

        I’m not sure why the graphic of that recommended Scenario 7 didn’t go through, but here it is again.

      • Alex June 6, 2018 (8:48 pm)

        “In addition to paying for the required capital contribution, this revenue can pay for expenses such as toll collection costs”…What a great use of money! In all seriousness though, I am not against the toll, I love it. I can afford it, and I don’t like traffic. Special roads for the rich, just as it should be. I can’t wait for tolled sidewalks so I can avoid the poor entirely.

  • old timer June 6, 2018 (11:11 am)

    When the first 520 bridge was built, the toll was a dime, and when the bridge was paid off, the tolls went away.That was in a time when government sort of worked for the people.Now the government completely works for itself.These tunnel tolls will exist in perpetuity; funding yet another little fiefdom paid for buy the serfs.

    • Karen June 6, 2018 (11:42 am)

      Good story about paying a dime on 520:  we went across with our young kids and tried to pay.  We were told we were a carpool.  We countered that we weren’t going to work.   Carpools were a new concept to us.  Live and learn.

    • heartless June 6, 2018 (11:58 am)

      I know in the olden days the grass was always greener and the government was always better, but let’s try to hew closer to reality.

      The toll was never a dime.  It was 35 cents when it opened in 1963.

      And 35 cents in 1963  is the same as $2.85 today. Try to keep things in perspective.

      • West Seattle since 1979 June 6, 2018 (1:37 pm)

        It’s more fun to complain! Also, I think people’s salaries went further then.

        • West Seattle since 1979 June 6, 2018 (2:05 pm)

          Also, the cost of living is much higher now, especially in Seattle, even relative to people’s salaries.  And some people are on fixed incomes. 

          • heartless June 6, 2018 (2:59 pm)


            I absolutely agree with you on all of your points.

            But I still think it’s important to not get carried away when talking about the ‘good old days’.    

    • Rick June 6, 2018 (12:35 pm)

      I remember paying 35cents on my motorcycle. The state kept the tolls after it was paid for but when the feds demanded their half of the matching money back with interest as per agreement, the state went WAAAHHH!!! 

    • TreeHouse June 7, 2018 (11:40 am)

      The tolls will exist in perpetuity since the 2 mile road costs $4,200,000,000. They will never recover that cost at $2. The tunnel was a mistake. Driving sure is expensive.

  • late to work June 6, 2018 (12:00 pm)

    “I understand the apathy”  Right on-why go to a meeting where you have to focus on the $90 a month it is now going to cost you to go the fastest way to work. My job is not raising my raise $1,080  a yr. to pay that fee.  I will now just have to leave earlier to go work. Is there a meeting to help cope with that change ?  

  • JeffK June 6, 2018 (12:26 pm)

    AABBCBBAAorABCABBCAAorABBCACBBABig whoop… These few cents hardly matter when the price of groceries and other living costs seem to go up more each time I shop.

  • K to the F June 6, 2018 (12:53 pm)

    There were 3 meetings last night all concerning our ‘hood (HALA/MHA, Avalon, and tolls) which is far too many given how few people are generally willing and able to show to any of these types of meetings in the first place.

    • Pete June 6, 2018 (1:55 pm)

      I was going to make the same comment. Poor planning when government agencies book events as the same time other government agencies book events. No wonder it was light attendance. And this does not even take into account the Human Services Coalition had their annual awards ceremony at city hall yesterday evening as well. 

  • amplification June 6, 2018 (2:03 pm)

    Not a matter of people unwilling to participate. Working people have little free time and no one can attend three meetings at once.

    The meeting schedules are not obviously made public (WSB exceptionally) with enough notice. If the City/County coordination is so poor that it cannot schedule NON-over-lapping meetings in one place, why should anyone prioritize attending?

    There is no confidence that resident citizens, who will be impacted, can provide input that will affect results.

    Listening or not, those most impacted by any specific topic do not have their feedback prioritized – so anyone from Walla Walla, Tonasket, Tacoma or Bellevue could show up and provide feedback.

    The issue is not ‘being heard’ – the issue is receiving the input and applying it to the finer points of the decisions required. So far attending a meeting or many – and filling out endless surveys that do not seem to be read, has done nothing more than continue to talk issues to death until there are no funds to implement anything agreed to or not. Decisions of how to spend tax money, from residents that have invested in this place – should be deliberate and take the time necessary to make good choices – to create community.  No one should advocate slap-dash decisions that will have 20, 30, 40 year resonance.

    I do not wonder why resident citizens are fatigued by this form of participation. I wonder at how the City/County Councils can continue to think this is representative of anything more than wasted ill-gotten gains.

    • Rick June 6, 2018 (3:10 pm)

      Yes,yes,and yes again!

    • S June 6, 2018 (3:56 pm)

      Agreed.  “Fatigued by this form of participation” hits it on the head.  I’d rather have the choices on a ballot that is sent in the mail to everyone.  And then action on the whatever the majority decides.  Not the loudest, not the deepest pockets, not only the voices of those who are available to attend these meetings.

      • WSB June 6, 2018 (4:01 pm)

        They are also taking comment by e-mail, phone, online form, as linked in this story and in our previous story. Meetings are generally just part of the feedback package.

  • Kara June 6, 2018 (2:17 pm)

    I know it’s frustrating, but just a little perspective. I went to visit my in-laws last month, fly into Chicago and drove to Kalamazoo, Michigan…and the tolls were crazy. We hit 3 on the way there, they only do cash, or you can figure out their crazy complicated online system that requires you to know what your entrance and exit on the freeway was. On the way back they took cards, but they was no one working the lanes so when a machine broke down a semi had to back up out of the toll lane and try another one. And their roads are in terrible shape and there is garbage everywhere. I’m not saying its perfect here, but two things, it could be worse…and if you don’t use your voice then you don’t get heard. I just see so much more complaining on here and negativity…be the change. 

    • Grumpy June 6, 2018 (8:45 pm)

      Scratch by Gary Indiana is the worst!!

  • Rick June 6, 2018 (3:21 pm)

    Nothing like paying ever increasing fees for incompetence and rewarding people for it! We’re the best!

  • D. Fields June 6, 2018 (4:10 pm)

    I agree.  I do not plan to use it.  I am sure they will not miss my money. 

  • K. Davis June 6, 2018 (4:38 pm)

    I don’t understand the whining about the tolls.  The tunnel was always going to be tolled (because we’re too stupid to go to a progressive income tax to pay for stuff we need to pay for, and insist instead that we have regressive sales taxes, gas taxes, user fees, etc. to fund governmental services).  No surprise there.  We have to pay for stuff.  It isn’t free.  Ya’ know, like police and parks and taking care of our poorest neighbors and paving our roads … all of that.  Don’t want to pay?  Don’t use the tunnel.  Easy-peasy.  For reals.  I smile because I strongly suspect the people whining the most about the tolls and how bad/incompetent government is are the same anti-tax/FoxNews-watching people who are susceptible to simplistic bashing as a solution to their whining.  Do enjoy it though.  

    • Um, No! June 7, 2018 (11:09 am)

      Ha,  progressive income tax or not,  the tunnel would be tolled.  Don’t kid yourself into thinking a state income tax will end the money graps for easy targets and regressive taxes.  Gov’t gots to get theirs!   

  • NW June 6, 2018 (7:13 pm)

    Start practicing more and more patience driving and keep your attention on the traffic around you because traffic in the region is going to become more and more heavy in the future. 

  • MJ June 6, 2018 (10:39 pm)

    I have no issue paying a toll, but in exchange I expect a faster travel time!  Paying a toll and then being stuck in stop and go traffic is not acceptable.

  • Kara June 7, 2018 (12:20 pm)

    YES! Gary was also just incredibly sad to drive through. Basically, once I was back home I gained a greater appreciate for many, many things. 

Sorry, comment time is over.