Rep. Jesse Young disappointed with toll increase proposals on Narrows Bridge, shares solutions

Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, is continuing to fight off increased tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge with a series of legislative proposals, some of which are being negotiated as part of the transportation budget. A public hearing was held on the issue in Gig Harbor on May 20. It was the final opportunity for the community to voice their concerns before the Washington State Transportation Commission adopted the proposed toll increase.

“I have heard, and share, the concerns of many constituents who wonder when the increases will end,” said Young. “The bridge is used by thousands of people each day as they get to and from work, school and community activities at a considerable cost. I'm concerned these toll hikes will disproportionately affect lower income commuters who can least afford it. I am disappointed that toll increases have become the status quo. It's time for a bold plan to address the future of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.”

Young has met with citizens, stakeholders and officials from the Department of Transportation to identify possible solutions.

“Since coming to the Legislature last year, I have been committed to finding solutions to this problem,” he said. “I have spent countless hours meeting with the Citizens Advisory Committee, the Transportation Commission, the Department of Transportation and my colleagues in the Legislature. It is abundantly clear that simply raising tolls every year will not solve the underlying debt problems. I have proposed legislation to address the debt and tolls increases and I will continue to work with everyone to find the best solutions.”

During the 2015 regular legislative session, Young introduced a package of bills to address the short-, medium- and long-term debt and toll issues.

Short-term solutions are addressed in the following bills, some of which are included – or are in negotiations to be included – as provisos in the transportation operating budget currently being negotiated:

  • House Bill 2141 – would forgive the start-up loan owed to the Motor Vehicle Fund, allowing those payments to instead be applied directly to the debt owed on the bridge.  This would eliminate the need to raise tolls this year.
  • House Bill 2142 – would also eliminate the need for proposed toll increases by permitting the funds in the sufficient minimum balance (SMB) account to be used for debt reduction.
    • Combined with HB 2141, it would eliminate the need to increase tolls this year and next.
    • The sufficient minimum balance is a policy created by the Transportation Commission, not a requirement under current law.

Mid-range solutions are also presented in the following proposal offered by Young:

  • House Bill 2052 – would create a task force to study the components needed for successful implementation of a public-private partnership regarding toll collection on the bridge.
    • This bill was added to the House budget in the form of a proviso for the WSDOT and Joint Transportation Committee to consider over the interim.
    • If successful, the timing of this solution would allow it to pick up where the short-term proposals leave off.

Long-term solutions are also considered in Young's package:

  • House Bill 2143 – would defer the sales tax payment an additional five years, affording the opportunity to have the nearly $60 million debt to be forgiven without an impact on future projected budgets.

“Ultimately, I would have preferred to have all of our work completed on the budget and have these solutions implemented to stave off these unnecessary toll increases,” Young said. “We owe it to taxpayers to put all options on the table in order to ensure the tolls and overall debt on the bridge is effectively managed and reduced. This plan is a win for the state, private sector investors, and most importantly the people who rely on the bridge every day.”

Earlier this year, members of the Citizens Advisory Committee welcomed the proposals, and lauded Young's plan.

“I'm glad to see we finally have a representative in Olympia that is taking the time to understand the complex toll process on the Tacoma Narrows bridge and the devastating impact those tolls are having on the people of the 26th District,” said Citizens Advisory Committee member Randy Boss. “The devil is always in the detail and Rep. Young is a master at untangling the minutia to get to the fair and equitable solution to these very complicated issues. He's the right guy in the right place at the right time to provide us with an ally in Olympia capable of getting the job done.”

The proposed toll increase would go into effect July 1, 2015

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov