Where do my toll dollars go?

By Laura Johnson

Toll rates on the SR 520 and Tacoma Narrows bridges are going up July 1. When rates increase, often people ask, so where does all my toll money go?

Well, the majority of each dollar goes goes toward paying for construction of the new bridges in the corridor you’re traveling. For example, on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, 71 cents out of every toll dollar goes to repaying construction debt. On the SR 520 bridge, it’s 82 cents out of every dollar that goes toward the $1.2 billion in toll money we need to build the new bridge set to open in spring 2016.

So what about the other 29 and 18 cents? Well, it’s split among a lot of different things. We have to pay our vendors that operate the toll collection equipment out on the highway and our customer service centers. There are credit card and bank fees associated with collecting the toll money, and costs to buy the passes we sell you. We also have folks at our Toll Division who make sure the tolling operations keep running smoothly – they get a couple pennies from each dollar.

If you want to see how everything’s broken down, check out these color coded dollar bills, which make it easier to see the percentages in relation to each other.

Where your Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll dollar goes

71 cents of every dollar goes to repaying construction debt.

Where your SR 520 toll dollar goes

The majority of your SR 520 toll dollar goes to paying for a new bridge.

We also looked at how much it costs other toll agencies around the country to collect their tolls. WSDOT’s costs (in green) are about average.

Now that you know where your toll money goes, it’s time for the details about the upcoming rate increases. On July 1, the Tacoma Narrows toll will go up 25 cents across the board for two-axle vehicles, with new rates of $4.50 for Good To Go! customers with a pass, $5.50 for drivers paying at toll booths and $6.50 for Pay By Mail customers. It’ll cost the average weekday commuter about $65 more a year.

Tolls on the SR 520 bridge will go up approximately 2.5 percent on July 1. The peak weekday Good To Go! pass rate will be $3.80 and the peak weekday Pay By Mail rate will be $5.40. The average weekday commuter will pay about $52 more a year.

Again, these rate increases have to happen so that we can pay back the bonds we sold to finance the building of the bridges.

The way it’s set up for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is that there are escalating debt payments, so the toll rates have to increase to keep up.

For the SR 520 Bridge, the Transportation Commission planned to have four 2.5-percent increases over four years (2012-2015), and then a 15-percent increase in 2016. During the initial rate setting process, they chose the 15-percent increase in 2016 after the new bridge is open to drivers. No rate increases are planned after 2016 for financing purposes; however, the commission will monitor traffic and revenue data to ensure we pay back our bondholders.