Higher tolls to begin in August on State Route 520 bridge

An aerial view in February 2024 of work on a new bike and pedestrian bridge over State Route 520 and connecting trails north and south of the highway. (Washington State Department of Transportation)

Tolls are going up on the State Route 520 floating bridge that connects Seattle with the east side of Lake Washington.

The Washington State Transportation Commission approved the hike in a 6-0 vote Wednesday, with one member absent. Peak weekday rates will rise to $4.90 from $4.50 for two-axle vehicles with a Good to Go! state toll pass. This price will be in effect during morning and evening rush hours.

Toll rates on the bridge fluctuate throughout the day and are more expensive at busier times.

Other midday rates will rise to $3.95 on weekdays – up from current prices of $3.25 or $3.80. Weekend rates will range from $1.35 to $2.95. Tolls will increase by an average of 10% over the entire week, according to the commission.

Motorists without a toll pass are charged an extra $2 to pay by mail. Tolls are also more expensive for vehicles with more than two axles.

The new pricing will take effect on Aug. 15.

These hikes come after the state treasurer’s office in December projected that current toll prices would not raise enough revenue to meet the bridge’s expenses beginning next July.

Tolling is expected to raise about $1.2 billion to go toward the $5.7 billion cost of replacing the bridge and completing other upgrades and maintenance in the State Route 520 corridor between Interstate 5 in Seattle and Interstate 405 in Bellevue.

Construction on the west side of the span has deterred drivers from using it, resulting in less toll collections, according to a presentation by commission staff.

Meanwhile, insurance costs for the bridge were on track to be $83 million higher than expected through fiscal year 2031. The state recently reworked how it is insuring the bridge to help stabilize that expense.

Carl See, deputy director for the commission, also noted that pandemic-era federal aid used to shore up revenue for the bridge expired last month.

“For the facility to still function, we do need to pay its bills. And we are legally required to do that,” said Commission Chair Debbie Young.

Toll rate increases for the State Route 520 floating bridge approved by the state Transportation Commission on July 10, 2024. (Washington State Transportation Commission)

Approved SR 520 Toll Incresae Proposal – July 2024

“We need to raise the toll rates to raise that money,” she added. “We regret that it causes misfortune for a number of our road users.”

An online survey seeking public feedback on proposed toll increases found just over half of the roughly 20,000 respondents opposed the hikes.

Savannah Bouton, who said she lives near the bridge, criticized the plan to raise tolls during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting. She said she owes thousands of dollars in tolls and that detouring around the bridge adds an hour of driving time.

“It feels like it’s a rich man’s highway,” she said. Bouton added: “You have nothing, nothing in place for low-income people.”

Young highlighted work that the commission has been doing to potentially launch a low-income tolling program, adding that this would require approval from the Legislature.

by Bill Lucia, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and X.

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