Any gas tax should include Narrows relief

December 11, 2013 

State Rep. Larry Seaquist made a logical request last week: If the state insists on raising the gas tax, particularly to help pay for transportation projects, that a portion of the new revenue would help pay off the bonds on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Of course, the potential solution wouldn’t make the peninsulas toll-free, but Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, said it could drop the base price from $4.25 to $4. As it stands, the toll is expected to jump another 25 cents to $4.50 on July 1.

Any change would be part of a transportation bill, Seaquist said. A transportation package made it through the state House during last year’s legislative session, but it stalled in the Senate.

“What I’m trying to do is insist that the deal not go through unless they fix our bridge toll,” Seaquist said.

The transportation package continues to float around the Legislature, and Seaquist said there may be a special session before the end of the year. If that doesn’t happen, the bill will “just kind of get mushed out into the regular session,” he said.

The regular session is expected to start Jan. 13.

A new gas tax has been proposed as a solution to fix aging infrastructure statewide — specifically the state Route 520 floating bridge — and to avoid tolling on Interstate 90. Seaquist is OK with that, but not without easing the burden of taxpayers who use the Tacoma Narrows regularly, especially if they’re going to be paying for another bridge that’s not in their district every time they fill up at a gas station.

“Here we are, paying 100 percent of our bridge, and we’re paying gas tax for the 520 bridge,” he said of the possible scenario.

If easing the financial burden of tolls with taxes is a good policy for the 520 bridge, it would be a good policy for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, too.

Reema Griffith, the executive director of the state Transportation Commission, said the commission won’t speculate on future toll rates. They’re set on an annual basis, and the process takes in variables such as the economy, the debt from bonds and population growth.

The governor-appointed Citizen Advisory Commission meets to analyze those factors and to make recommendations to the commission. The process of determining the toll for the coming year will start after the new year.

The bonds were sold when economic projections were more optimistic, Griffith said. Between now and 2030, those projected numbers could fluctuate one way or the other.

Griffith said she’s aware tolls can be frustrating for drivers.

“Obviously, it’s hard to have rates go up every year,” she said. “It’s not ideal.”

Should Seaquist’s proposal get through the Legislature, it would be part of the deliberations when the Citizen Advisory Committee makes its recommendation, and the Transportation Commission sets the toll.

“You never know what’s going to come out (of the Legislature),” Griffith said. “We will be very mindful.”

Understanding drivers’ frustrations in one part of the state and easing the burden for others just an hour north of us doesn’t seem to make sense, so we hope Seaquist can garner enough support to include the Narrows Bridge — if, in fact, the state looks at a plan to increase the gas tax.

We understand others’ concerns that they shouldn’t have to pay for the Narrows toll when they don’t use our bridge, but if that’s the case, then peninsula-area commuters shouldn’t have to pay for the 520 bridge if they don’t cross the Seattle span.

It’s a simple study in equity.

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