A proposal that aims to offset rising toll costs on the Tacoma Narrows bridge by selling its naming rights has some lawmakers concerned the local icon could turn into “The Chuck E. Cheese Bridge.”
State Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, has introduced a bill that would allow the Washington State Transportation Commission to accept fees in exchange for the right to rename transportation facilities. She said her goal with auctioning off the naming rights is to help keep rising toll costs in check.
“The idea first came to me when I was in a public meeting working on tolls and toll prices with the Tacoma Narrows bridge,” Angel said Tuesday during House Bill 1051’s hearing before the House Transportation Committee. “The tolling rates continue to escalate. And I’m trying to find a way of providing additional revenue that doesn’t come out of the taxpayer’s wallet, so that we can hopefully keep some of these tolls stable.”
Skeptics during the hearing said the proposal was innovative but risked sacrificing community identity for the sake of a few bucks.
“Would you contemplate that the part that says Tacoma Narrows bridge or Deception Pass Bridge would be gone, and it might be the ‘Chuck E. Cheese Bridge?’” asked Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma. “Are you concerned about the loss of that history?”
Fey said in an interview later Tuesday that he thought the proposal was “a loss of heritage for the purposes of commercialization.” He also doubted that it would provide much financial gain.
“I think that it’s hard for me to imagine a lot of revenue with (selling) the name,” Fey said. A financial analysis accompanying the proposed law was unable to determine the amount of revenue it would generate.
Angel said that she thinks it is important to keep the traditional names of major landmarks, but thinks that something like the “ABC Company Tacoma Narrows Bridge” would be an option.
The toll to cross the Tacoma Narrows bridge one-way now costs $4 for those who pay electronically, $5 for those who pay at a toll booth and $6 for those who get their bill in the mail. Tolls are scheduled to increase a final time to an average of $6 starting in July 2015 until the bridge’s debt is repaid, which is projected to be in fiscal year 2031.
But a toll hike could come sooner as traffic across the bridge remains lower than state projections, forcing the state Transportation Commission to raise tolls to cover the bridge’s rising debt payments. Because the bonds can’t be refinanced, Angel said, commuters could be left holding the bag.
Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, said he thought the proposal was “creative,” but raised issues about fairness.
“The public spends hundreds of millions of dollars to construct the infrastructure that’s around us — taxpayer dollars to build bridges and highways — and someone gets to come in at the last minute and spend a million bucks and buy the naming rights to it,” Liias said. “Is that really fair to the taxpayer? We’re putting in $100 million dollars, and then Pizza Hut gets to put in the last million and name it?”
Rep. Judy Clibborn, the Mercer Island Democrat who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said she understands Angel’s desire to help pay for public facilities, but she thinks that the concerns about losing community identity are significant.
“I think that there are enough concerns out there that right now, I don’t see this on the fast track,” Clibborn said.
Angel has introduced a similar proposal — House Bill 1050 — that would let other state and local agencies sell the naming rights to their public facilities.
Angel she just doesn’t want to see Narrows commuters paying $8, $10 or $12 tolls in the future.
“During these challenging economic times, it is imperative that we as legislators endeavor to think out of the box,” Angel said. “That is what I am trying to do with this bill.”firstname.lastname@example.org 360-357-0209