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Tolling Points

Seattle's New Downtown Tunnel is 'Running Smoothly'

By: 
Bill Cramer

“Running smoothly.”

They’re the two words that every road builder and traffic planner looks forward to hearing at the end of a project. And they were the main takeaway from local traffic reporter Chris Sullivan of Seattle’s KIRO Radio, after the two-mile State Route 99 Tunnel opened February 4.

“Both directions of the #99tunnel and all ramps are now open,” the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) tweeted at 12:22 AM February 4. “The only exception is the northbound off-ramp to South Dearborn Street, which will be completed in another one to two weeks.”

“It’s a good facility,” Sullivan reported a few hours later, on a Monday morning when a freak snowstorm was bigger news than completion of a long-awaited local infrastructure project.

The new facility will be tolled beginning this summer.

On opening day, most of the local coverage focused on helping drivers get used to changes in local traffic patterns. “It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen“,” said Heather Marx, Seattle’s director of mobility. “We have some theories and some hypotheses about what’s going to happen, and we’re ready for those. When things don’t turn out quite the way we expect them to, we’re also ready to make changes in real time.”

“WSDOT, SDOT, Seattle Police, and Washington State Patrol coordinated closely to ensure the tunnel was opened safely,” the state agency added in a release. “Thanks again to everyone who changed their travel habits during the #Realign99 closure. If you found a new way to get around that works well, we encourage you to keep it up. If everyone makes better commuting decisions, all of us will be better off.”

Once tolls take effect, the variable rate will be $1.00 to $2.25 with a Good to Go Pass and $3.00 to $4.25 for pay-by-mail customers. Between the Lines, WSDOT’s info page for the facility, makes it clear that a long-awaited change to the downtown cityscape would not have been complete by now if not for user financing.

“The Legislature has directed WSDOT to collect tolls in the SR 99 Tunnel in order to repay $200 million in construction bonds borrowed to build the tunnel and to fund the ongoing cost of operating and maintaining a safe facility,” the agency states. “This funding is part of the $3.3-billion investment to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct and rebuild SR 99 through Seattle.”

Learn more about the funding and financing options that get needed projects off the ground. Attend IBTTA’s Summit on Finance & Policy, May 19-21, 2019 in Philadelphia.

Also, plan now to visit Seattle when IBTTA holds its Communication and Change Management Summit this July 28-30, 2019.  Registration opens April 1, no joke!