It's time to raise toll rates on the Highway 99 tunnel.
The state's artificially-reduced tolls went into place on Nov. 9 and since then, more people are taking the tunnel than the state expected, which means one thing and one thing only: We need to raise toll rates on this terrible tunnel.
State lawmakers originally required that tolling contribute $400 million to the cost of the $3-billion car-only tunnel, but state officials later reduced that target and lowered toll prices because they thought high tolls would discourage use of the tunnel. So the state ended up charging tolls as low as $1, which is practically paying people to take this climate-destroying piece of infrastructure.
But that feared drop in drivers isn’t as bad as the state thought. The first two weeks of post-toll traffic data shows drivers have only decreased by 26 percent, not the 35 to 50 percent drop WSDOT had expected after tolling began. There are still roughly 57,000 vehicles using the tunnel on an average weekday (down from 77,000 pre-tolling). And during rush hour, “peak travel volumes in the tunnel remain high,” according to WSDOT.
So let’s raise the tolling rates. I propose $20/15 per trip (peak/non-peak). But I regret to inform Slog’s environmentalist readers that a toll increase doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon, according to Heather Hernandez, a spokesperson for WSDOT’s tolling division.
“If a rate adjustment needs to occur, the [Washington State Transportation Commission] will begin the public review and input process, with the target of having the new rates in effect about six months later. This provides plenty of time for public review and input to be gathered, before final decisions are made,” Hernandez said in an e-mail.
Hernandez added that “it’s still very early” in the new tolling regime and the existing toll rates were put in place “after years of careful consideration.”
“The rates were designed to strike a balance between meeting the financial obligations required by state law and trying to limit diversion as much as possible,” Hernandez said.
One thing the state hasn’t considered when tolling this tunnel (and something that wasn’t considered by the elected officials like former Gov. Christine Gregoire who slammed this tunnel down Seattle’s throat) is the environment. Transportation makes up 62.5 percent of Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions, yet we are subsidizing people to drive their cars (the least efficient and most harmful way to travel in our city) through this ridiculous tunnel. It costs only $1 to take this shitty tunnel during off-peak hours but it costs me $2.75 every hour of the day to take a King County Metro Bus. These tunnel tolls will raise only $9 million in 2020 to pay for a project that will cost well over $3 billion and provides zero access to mass transit. For reference, Sound Transit will collect over
$7 billion$100 million in fares in 2019 to pay for their mass transit operations. We’re subsidizing driving climate-causing cars underneath our city while taxing the hell out of train and bus riders.
Seattle can’t be considered serious about fighting climate change when our shitty tunnel costs only $1 for a driver to take.