By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – Beginning Oct. 1, Kitsap motorists will likely pay 25 cents more in toll fees when they cross the Tacoma Narrows bridge, according to a rate increase being sought by the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC).
If the hikes are approved, toll booth rates for a car would increase from $6 to $6.25, the Good To Go! pass rate would move from $5 to $5.25 and the Pay By Mail rate would rise from $7 to $7.25.
Revenue income from Narrows Bridge toll fees took a hit during the pandemic when fewer drivers were on the road, which contributed to the need for a rate increase, said Carl See, deputy director of the state transportation commission. Between March 2020 and March 2021, toll income dropped approximately 16%, leading to $14.2 million in lost revenue, See said.
In April 2020, monthly toll transactions dipped to 710,000. This April, crossings rose to 1,260,000.
Traffic volume on the bridge has increased in recent months as impacts of the pandemic have resolved, but officials do not see volumes returning to pre-pandemic levels as telecommuting becomes more commonplace. For example, bridge trips in April were 35,000 less than in pre-pandemic April 2019, according to WSTC.
Tolls are only collected for eastbound trips to Tacoma on State Route 16. The fees help repay the costs of construction to build the second span of the bridge that opened in 2007. The second bridge is the only facility that is being financed by toll payers.
The one-time rate increase is expected to be the only one assessed between now and when the bridge is slated to be fully paid for in 2030. This is based on the assumption the state Legislature keeps its intention to provide $85 million in loan assistance from gas-tax revenue, the commission’s deputy director said.
However, due to reduced toll income during the pandemic, the commission may need more than $85 million to cover construction costs. This may throw a wrench into the plan of not implementing additional toll hikes.
“There has been strong support by lawmakers to this point to maintain the loans,” See said.
Should the Legislature change its position on covering the loan payments, the commission may need to consider another toll increase down the road, he added.
Public input on the proposed new tolls is being sought by WSTC. Input will be gathered through Aug. 16 by using a feedback form or emailing comments to email@example.com.
The WSTC will hold its final hearing on the rate changes on Aug. 24, when it is expected to vote to adopt the toll rate changes. To testify at the Zoom hearing, register and sign up in advance on the WSTC website.