State to begin new modeling for toll rates in SR 99 tunnel

SEATTLE — The state is preparing a new study to figure out what you'll pay to drive the State Route 99 tunnel, and it could be between $1 and $2.50 per trip.

If the state settles on that higher number, it will be more expensive than tolls recommended by an advisory panel two years ago.

In 2014, that panel suggested tolls of $1 in the new tunnel, rising to $1.25 during peak commutes.

On Tuesday, Patty Rubstello, WSDOT's assistant secretary for tolling, told KIRO 7 that recommendation was based on outdated modeling using 2006 traffic data.

"What we need to do is make it very current to what it is right now. A lot has changed in this region with employment and population continuing to change, we want to be able to reflect that in our model and look out into the future," Rubstello said.

As it uses new sophisticated models, WSDOT will consider toll rates ranging from $1 to $1.50 for off peak hours, and $1.50 to $2.50 during peak commutes.

Officials must figure out how many people would take the tunnel at various price points.

Rates will be lower than what drivers pay on the State Route 520 Bridge or the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, because people won't have to take the tunnel. They can take surface streets instead.

The State Transportation Commission will ultimately set toll rates on the 99 tunnel, making sure they aren't too high to encourage drivers to avoid the tunnel, while also making sure they're high enough to raise $200 million to help pay for the project.

Rubstello said Tuesday the tunnel will likely open without tolls at first, so that tolling equipment can be tested in real-time for a month or two before being used.