SEATTLE — The Washington State Transportation Commission decided Tuesday the likely toll structure for drivers taking the new 99 tunnel.
The choice, which was narrowed down from three choices, sets tolls from $1 overnight to $1.25 or $1.50 during the morning commute to a high of $2.25 during peak rush hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The tolls are set to increase by 3 percent every three years, starting in 2022.
"That seems possibly a little high," commuter Blake Schwartz said, "but, I mean, consider people taking the 520 bridge — you've gotta pay more than that every day."
"I think that's a little more reasonable than the 520 [bridge], which can climb up pretty high," Sumeet Sharma said. "It can go up to four, five bucks sometimes."
The commission stated that the rates could change in the future, depending on the economy and growth, and how traffic is affected.
"It's a new alignment," said Reema Griffith, executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission. "People are going to use this tunnel differently. There's a lot to be learned."
Griffith said the commission will also review the potential escalations every three years to ensure they're needed.
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One of the biggest things the state will be watching is diversion, the number of cars that avoid the tolls and create more congestion on downtown streets or I-5. Griffith said the tolls are as low as they can go.
"We are confident we have minimized that diversion risk as much as possible," Griffith said.
Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center, explains those alternate routes will likely get worse.
"What we will see is, there will be diversion," he said. "Some people will decline to pay and they will take alternative routes."
He pointed to I-5, 4th Avenue, 2nd Avenue, and the waterfront as possible routes. He said smaller streets take longer to recover from gridlock than I-5 or the current viaduct.
"You can see the city of Seattle's concern over what happens downtown," he said. "That's why they're doing the study of, well, what if we did tolling on city streets? Which they really mean, around downtown Seattle."
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