State Transportation Chair: State Could Lift Spending Cap on Tunnel
State house transportation committee chair Judy Clibborn (D-41) confirmed a rumor this afternoon that state legislators might consider lifting the $2.4 billion cap on the state's contribution to tunnel funding, and that toll financing could ultimately end up at less than the current $200 million commitment----adding, however, that "tolling modeling is a really difficult thing to do, and I want them to run some more scenarios" before landing on a final tolling rate. "There will be a toll on that tunnel," she says.
Mayor Mike McGinn has argued that the $2.4 billion cap leaves the city on the hook for any tunnel cost overruns; state legislators have argued all along that although they believe there won't be any cost overruns, the state will pay for the entire project, whatever happens.
"We will pay for whatever it takes to do that tunnel. ... That's always been the state's responsibility," Clibborn says. "A cap was put on, and I wouldn't take the cap off at this point." But she also calls the $2.4 billion cap "a political thing" included in the legislation to ensure that tunnel contractors wouldn't seek a "windfall profit" if no cap was in place.
Clibborn also threw cold water on a suggestion made by Transportation Choices Coalition director Rob Johnson, a member of the state transportation department's tolling committee, that the state might consider imposing tolls before drivers actually enter the new Alaskan Way tunnel---before cars can exit 99 at Seattle Center, for example---as a way of generating more revenue and reducing diversion of cars onto downtown streets.
Last week, the state department of transportation announced that, according to its models, that a tunnel toll of any size will create significant diversion of traffic onto city streets, and that only one of its likely tolling scenarios stands a chance of generating the $200 million (down from an initial pledge of $400 million) the state has said it expects to generate from tolls.
"We are not talking about" charging tolls on people who don't actually use the tunnel, Clibborn says. Comparing the idea to "cordon tolling," or charging drivers to enter the center city, Clibborn continues, "I’m not interested in that at all. It doesn’t play well with the public, and it steps on our message about [the fact that] we’re tolling to manage the existing and new systems, and I think it’s also some people’s biggest fear."