Narrow’s Bridge Tolls are set to increase… again

Recent events have brought to bear the lack of time voters tend to invest in researching the ins and outs of revenue funded public projects, being under the impression that if they don’t use it they won’t pay for it. At the moment Pierce County is feeling the effects of a rise in bridge tolls that will hurt not only Gig Harbor business, but also Tacoma’s, as the growing aversion to crossing the bridge goes both ways. The issue warrants a look into what actually lead to this situation, and how it can be avoided in the future.

Fourteen years ago frustrated motorists sitting for three to four hours in traffic on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge voted that the state build another. This new eastbound bridge would relieve the excess traffic from the now westbound, which was bearing almost 30,000 more cars every day than it was designed to. Based on the assumption that the amount of traffic would remain steady or even grow Washington began building the $800 million dollar bridge on an escalating debt payment plan that would cause the amount of money owed to grow each year. Similarly, the tolls depended upon to pay for the bridge, would rise every few years, and were predicted to reach $6 by 2016.

The bridge opened in 2007, and it greatly relieved traffic; it was undoubtedly a necessity, however a more well balanced financial plan may have helped avoid what happened next. The economic crisis meant that commuters were beginning to cut back on transportation costs in every way possible. Lost jobs, fewer trips across, fewer visitors to Gig Harbor, and an increase in bus commuters meant that the amount of cars crossing the bridge was substantially fewer than had been expected. As a result, bridge tolls were raised drastically on the first of this month to offset the yearly increasing state debt. With a Good to Go pass cost will be $4; without it, $5, prices that are likely to rise in the future. The reaction from commuters in the area, especially Gig Harbor residents, was general outrage over the cost to already struggling families and the effect that this will have on Gig Harbor business.

Hence come the dangers of revenue funded public projects; usage predictions being off by even a little means a drastic change in prices, as the state struggles to keep up payments, which will hurt the economy in many other aspects. This is a danger we must always keep in mind when voting on these sorts of projects despite the fact that actual taxes may not be involved; though you may not pay directly, when the state spends money it will effect you and it is best to know how beforehand.