Tolls on the Tacoma Narrows bridge will likely increase this summer for the fourth consecutive year, but by how much has yet to be decided.
Without another increase, the state will be unable to meet its debt payments on the eastbound span that opened in 2007, said Craig Stone, head of the state’s tolling division.
“There is a 16 percent increase in debt service going into the next year,” Stone told the Tacoma Narrows Bridge citizen advisory committee Wednesday night.
Toll increases are the only way to meet rising debt payments, unless there is a significant rise in bridge traffic or legislators agree to refinance the debt or subsidize it with other revenue — scenarios that are unlikely or politically challenging.
The advisory committee did not discuss a specific toll increase during its two-hour meeting Wednesday, but the transportation data presented by Stone implied one is inevitable.
After the meeting he confirmed the need for an increase but couldn’t say by how much because “we haven’t run the numbers yet.”
Advisory committee chairman Alan Weaver asked the state to come to the next meeting with scenarios for a 40- or 50-cent increase over a two-year period. That would be similar to 2013 and 2014; the toll rate jumped 25 cents on July 1 in each of those years.
Debt service on the bridge is $54 million in fiscal year 2015. Payments jump to $62 million in fiscal year 2016 and $70 million in fiscal year 2017.
The amount is expected to increase even further before the debt is finally paid off by 2030.
Bridge traffic was 2 percent above state projections for fiscal year 2014 for the first time in recent years, according to state data from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014.
But revenue was below projections by 1.5 percent.
State transportation officials attribute the decrease in revenue to scofflaws crossing the bridge. Some tolls are never paid, while other payments come in after a $40 civil penalty is issued, Stone said.
Revenue received through the civil penalty process is not counted toward overall revenue collection. That money is earmarked to repay a $5.3 million loan from the state’s motor vehicle account made to the bridge fund in 2007, he said.
The state Transportation Commission has asked the advisory committee for its recommendation by Feb. 18.
At their meeting Wednesday in Gig Harbor, committee members expressed frustration with the short turnaround. The committee’s next meeting date has not been set, but will likely be in two weeks.
The Transportation Commission is expected to set the toll rate in May. Any increase would go into effect July 1.
Bridge tolls have increased every summer since July 2012. They now sit at $4.50 for Good to Go transponder users, $5.50 for tollbooth payers and $6.50 for pay by mail.
When the bridge opened in 2007, tolls were $1.75 for Good to Go users and $3 at the booth. There was no pay-by-mail system in the early years.
For information on the advisory committee’s next meeting visit wsdot.wa.gov/Tolling/TNBTolling/CitizenAdvisoryCommittee.