For the first time in four years, there will not be a toll increase on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge this summer.
The state Transportation Commission agreed to suspend the planned 50-cent increase last week after the Legislature allocated $2.5 million in gas tax revenues to help cover the bridge’s debt service.
Toll rates will remain at current levels through June 30, 2017. Good to Go users pay $5 to cross the bridge, while toll booth users pay $6 and Pay by Mail users pay $7.
“All signs are that things are stabilizing and we’re seeing growth in traffic,” Transportation Commission executive director Reema Griffith said Thursday.
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Traffic was up 3 percent in 2015 with more than 14.3 million trips over the bridge. Traffic estimates predict a 2 percent increase in 2016.
The growth is encouraging, Griffith said, because of how the state structured the bridge’s debt-repayment plan.
When the eastbound span of the bridge opened in 2007 the intent was to gradually increase tolls as the number of vehicles increased along with growth on the Peninsula.
The increase was supposed to keep pace with growing back-loaded debt payments until final payoff in 2030.
All signs are that things are stabilizing and we’re seeing growth in traffic.
Reema Griffith, executive director state Transportation Commission
Traffic across the bridge instead remained flat for years. That left one solution to keep up with the growing debt: increase tolls.
Bridge users have seen annual toll increases since July 2012. The largest came last summer, when tolls went up 50 cents. They were expected to go up another 50 cents this summer.
Debt payments also grew significantly in that time, going from $43 million in 2012 to $71 million in 2017.
State Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, and state Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, pushed the legislation to allocate the gas tax revenues to cover the gap between toll collections and next year’s debt service payment.
The legislation, combined with the slight uptick in traffic, resulted in the commission suspending the planned toll increase.
“It’s the best it’s ever looked,” Griffith said of traffic counts.
Bruce Beckett, chairman of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge citizen advisory committee, said this month that he hopes tolls can remain at current levels through next year.
“There is actually a pause in the debt-payment increase next year,” Beckett said March 9. “This solution has a chance to last for a few years. The debt payments don’t have these huge jumps like they did this year.”
A decision about future toll increases is a year away, Griffith said.
The commission will approve the toll suspension at a meeting May 17 in Olympia.