Politics & Government

Peninsula residents give commission an earful on proposed Narrows toll increase

Words such as “grossly unfair,” “unconstitutional” and “catastrophic” were used by peninsula-area residents this week to describe a 50-cent toll increase on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge planned for later this year and again in 2016.

Wednesday night’s meeting in Gig Harbor was the second of three public meetings conducted by the Washington state Transportation Commission. It will listen to more comments and take final action May 20.

Former state Rep. Larry Seaquist had some of the harshest words for the commission. He said placing 100 percent of the bridge repayment cost on tolls is unconstitutional because residents of the area must pay to cross the Narrows while also paying gasoline taxes on other projects around the state.

“We are not being treated equally … it is your obligation to say so,” Seaquist said.

While in office in 2013, he proposed a plan that would have rolled back and capped the bridge toll at $4.

Now he suggests that the bridge debt should be partially repaid with revenues from a higher gasoline tax, similar to what state lawmakers are considering to help pay for the state Route 520 bridge project in Seattle.

Citizens Advisory Committee member Randy Boss criticized using the gasoline tax for other projects. He said Narrows Bridge users are treated unfairly because they pay for their local project while also bankrolling other transportation projects via taxation, such as the consistently troubled state Route 99 tunnel project in downtown Seattle.

“We’re the guinea-pig project after 40 years of no tolls in the state,” Boss said. “We got our project done on time and under budget and we’re still being punished.”

Tolls are increasing because of the rising debt service on the eight-year-old bridge, said Noah Crocker, senior financial analyst for the commission.

“Current toll rates will not produce sufficient revenue to meet our annual expenses,” Crocker said.

Earlier this year, the Citizens Advisory Committee forwarded a proposal that would raise the toll by $1 during the next two years.

On July 1, tolls would jump to $5 for Good to Go passes, $5.50 for toll booths and $6 for pay by mail. Each method of payment would go up another 50 cents the following July.