The Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll is officially going up.
Whether you like it or not.
Despite testimonies from local residents and lawmakers, the Washington State Transportation Commissioners (WSTC) approved the proposed toll increases at the on Monday.
Starting July, Good to Go! customers will have to pay $4 to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (TNB), which is $1.25 more than their current fee of $2.75.
Local community members all recommended the Commission to accept the lower rate of $3.65 for Good to Go! customers, which was proposed by the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Citizen Advisory Committee in March.
“I would strongly encourage and advocate for the toll rates the CAC have set. They are Gig Harbor representatives. I think it would be erroneous for the board to overrule what the CAC was asked to do,” said Doug Richards.
“Gig Harbor area is a retirement community of a large part on fixed incomes,” another resident said. “Those who aren’t retiring have young families and are struggling.”
According to a Patch poll on whether residents were happy with the new toll rate proposal, 91 percent of the readers said paying $4 for the toll was too much.Toll Rate Propsal
ETC (Good to Go!) Cash Pay by Mail TNB Citizen Advisory Committee $3.65 $5 $7 WSTC Final Proposal (ADOPTED)
$4 $5 $6
However at the end of the meeting, the Commissioners voted, 5-1, with Chairman Dick Ford casting the dissenting vote, to adopt the amended WSTC proposal.
The members justified that the new rates would generate the necessary revenue to cover the costs and meet the requirements through fiscal year 2013 (July 2012-June 2013).
“Unfortunately, I feel that the CAC was basing their recommendations primary on forecast. And what we’ve seen is that the forecast has not been coming in nearly as close,” said Commissioner Tom Cowan of San Juan County. “I think that the Commission was looking a lot more closely at the actuals and recognizing that through the elasticity, we’re going to even have some further decreases in the traffic.”
Washington State Department of Transportation Toll Division Director Craig Stone and WSTC Senior Financial Analyst Noah Crocker said the rate increase is necessary in order for the toll revenues to keep up with the expenses.Revenue vs Expenses (FY 2008-2013) Year Revenue Total Expenses Debt Service Operation & Maintenance 2008 $31,188,744 $30,074,589 $14,688,752 $15,385,837
2009 $45,584,482 $38,058,078 $26,925,418 $11,132,660 2010 $46,682,925 $46,086,415 $34,902,925 $11,183,690 2011 $46,026,509 $54,831,190 $44,955,420 $9,875,770 2012 $46,278,000 $49,927,000 $40,443,000 $9,484,000 2013 (Projected) $48,757,000 $57,041,000 $45,742,669 $11,298,000
According to RCW 47.56.165, the commission is required to set toll rates for the TNB in an amount that is sufficient to pay debt payments, maintenance, preservation and operations of the bridge.
The TNB was also financed with an escalating debt structure in 2007 to minimize the initial impact on bridge users. As a result, debt payments have grown over time and now require additional toll revenue, according to the WSTC. In the 2007-09 biennium the state paid $41 million in debt payments, but in the current 2011-2013 biennium debt payments for the bridge will reach nearly $90 million.
Additionally, the Commission created a revenue reserve called Sufficient Minimum Balance (SMB) in 2010. The sufficient minimum fund balance in the TNB account was set at 12.5 percent of total annual costs to cover revenue shortfalls. Crocker said the SMB is now below the required target due to the recession.
In addition, the Commission said that the actual traffic volumes on the bridge have been blow projections, affecting the annual revenue.Tacoma Narrows Bridge Traffic Volumes Fiscal Year Projected Traffic Actual Reported Traffic Actual vs. Projected Traffic % 2008 13,868,300 13,896,474 0.20% 2009 13,964,642 13,933,956 -0.22% 2010 14,438,243 14,261,331 -1.23% 2011 14,580,683 14,063,498 -3.55% 2012 YTD (July- March) 10,542,413 10,266,087 -2.62%
Without a rate increase, Crocker said the toll revenue for fiscal year 2013 is projected at $46.5 million, which is $17.7 million below the amount needed. He argued that even if the bridge traffic grew without a rate increase, the TNB Account would still be $11.5 million short.
Commissioner Dan O’Neal of Mason County was not present at tonight’s meeting. The new rates go into effect July 1, 2012.