Toll Plan Cheat Sheet

Mar 22, 2013

Washington state officials announced proposals on Tuesday to increase the toll rates on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the State Route 520 floating bridge. The tolls are being used to pay off bonds that support the financing of the bridge projects. The bond contracts for those bridges are very different, which means the tolling plans are different.

SR 520

Under the proposal for tolls on 520, the current peak-hour toll is $3.59.

This July the toll is set to rise to $3.70 under a plan by the Washington State Transportation Commission, the entity that sets toll rates.

Reema Griffith, the commission’s executive director, said the commission has planned to increase the 520 tolls every year until 2017, ever since the tolls went into effect in late 2011. Up until 2016, the annual increases are about 2.5 percent, and the rates are rounded to the nearest 5-cent increments. In 2016, the increase jumps to 15 percent which would bring the toll up to $4.50 in the peak hours.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

The current toll for a typical car is $4.00. The state transportation commission has proposed raising that to $4.25 in July, and then to $4.50 in July of 2014.

After that Griffith said it’s not clear what the Tacoma tolls would be, unlike the tolls for 520, because the bond contracts are structured differently. Griffith said the Tacoma tolls are similar to an adjustable rate mortgage. “You start out low and each year your payments jump. And then they keep jumping and perhaps there’s a balloon payment at the end,” she said.

How long will the tolls last?

For the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, state law requires the tolls to end once the debt incurred from the bonds is paid off. Griffith said that’s expected to take 30 years.

But for the 520 bridge, state law is unclear about how long those tolls would stay in place.

Are the increases a done deal?

No. Commissioners will vote on the proposed toll hikes in May.

In order for the Tacoma toll increase to take effect, the Legislature will need to approve the increase or authorize the commission to do so.

The 520 tolls do not require similar action from the Legislature.

Griffith said the commission is open to feedback about the proposed toll increases. You can find out how to give input at the Washington State Transportation Commission’s website.