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Tolls on U.S. 2 would fund new trestle

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — A new state study suggests replacing the U.S. 2 westbound trestle could cost $2 billion and it might take up to $690 million in long-term tolls to afford construction.
“Tolls should be considered as a significant and viable funding source,” according to the January study, though local officials and many in the community beg to differ.
The report details three funding options toward construction of a 52-foot-wide three lane roadway or a 64-foot four lane configuration. On the low end, a three lane option would tentatively cost from $1.2 to $1.8 billion. A four lane option might cost $1.4 to $2 billion.
Two of the three plans rely on tolls. For off-peak travel on the less aggressive tolling plan, drivers would pay $1.50. Tolls would top out at $5.25 for peak travel on the more aggressive option. The tolls, over time, would repay construction bonds for building the trestle.
While most everyone agrees revamping the heavily trafficked 50-year-old trestle is in order, ponying up to pay for it is a more divisive topic.
“No one is a fan of tolling,” said Snohomish Mayor John Kartak. “Whether that means that we need a toll or don’t need a toll, that’s a different part of the equation.”
Kartak is currently gathering information on the issue.
Paying for a new trestle would likely involve a variety of public funding sources or a mix of public and private contributions.
“We have a lot of needs around this state for our roadways, improvements, new facilities (and) maintaining infrastructure. If relying solely on a gas tax, some would have to go unfunded,” said state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) spokeswoman Kris Olsen.
The three cost estimates outline diverse funding sources: anywhere from one to three pennies of a gas tax, federal and state grants, bonds, and most controversial, tolls. Government and private loans might round out the funding mix.
Total toll revenues would equal between $320 and $690 million, with median estimates of $500 to $600 million. Gas taxes would provide another $350 million in funding per penny.
“We do have more and more facilities that are being tolled...and the legislature is willing to use tolls more as a viable funding option,” Olsen said.
A toll-free plan — the third option — would pose a serious funding challenge.
The third plan relies on a 3 cent a gallon gas tax, but it’s got a roadblock: the figures fall
$70 million short of paying for even the smaller three-lane trestle option unless construction figures come in way under estimate.
The report speculates if a toll is introduced, WSDOT estimates up to 20 percent of traffic in the first year of tolling will divert to alternate routes or other ways of avoid the new fees.
That would cause a negative impact for the town as drivers would likely take detours such as the Lowell-Snohomish River Road, Avenue D or Airport Road which aren’t designed for commuter traffic, Kartak said in a follow-up interview.
The funding study also suggests that involving private partners could create a more bottom-line focused approach that could return a more efficient and cheaper process.
“I’m disappointed they didn’t really explore all of the options,”
said state Rep. Mark Harmsworth, who has crusaded against tolling on Interstate 405.
Harmsworth has taken to Facebook to oppose the plan:More than 12,900 residents signed a petition against trestle-replacement tolls since he posted early toll
estimates on his Facebook page in late November.
Harmsworth and Kartak both said tolls do not seem practical.
“Even a $2 toll doesn’t recover actual costs,” Harmsworth said. “Tolls need to be taken off the table at this point,” he said.
WSDOT spokesman Ethan Bergerson countered claims that tolls are too inefficient to be useful. “The best comparison is the 520 bridge, because it’s basically a full tolling facility. In our 2016 fiscal year,
80 percent of the toll revenue went to repaying debt costs,” Bergerson wrote in an email.
Harmsworth said there are many options worthy of consideration. Federal grants could represent a significant portion of trestle funding and enlisting private partners could also offset costs.
WSDOT does recommend considering a private-public partnership. “A private partner will use whatever approach provides the most value, and WSDOT will never know what could be achievable… if the option is not available,” according to the report.
Harmsworth identified Boeing and the Port of Everett as some potential partners. He said a Boeing commuter shuttle program might be one option that would allow Boeing involvement and take cars off the road.
The WSDOT study also specifically considered federal grant funding. WSDOT estimated $100 million in grants was a reasonable goal, but with a caveat: less
than 10 percent of applicants for the two most promising, but competitive, available grants won funding.
The January funding study is the first of two. A US 2/SR 204/20th Street SE interchange justification report is due to the legislature in July. That report will delve into specifics for the roadway design, such as HOV lanes or peak use shoulders.
All figures are based on construction in 2024. They include annual cost increases of 4 to 5 percent annually. Potential tolls would be implemented as early as 2023.
WSDOT notes the funding study only provides preliminary rough estimates: environmental
studies, traffic analysis, engineering and much more stakeholder input will be needed before the path to replacing the trestle solidifies. That process will likely cost $8 to $10 million according to the study.
In the meantime, the funding report will be heard in the Legislature in advance of the more detailed upcoming July report.
So far, all the plans call for eliminating the westbound off-ramp to Ebey Island, with access to/from the east via the 20th Street low-level bridge, widening of the US 2 on-ramp to southbound I-5 for queue storage and allowance for improved bicycle and pedestrian
connections.
The January report involved input from the Port of Everett, the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County, local transit agencies
and the cities of Everett, Lake Stevens, Marysville, Snohomish and Monroe.

 

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