A few weeks back McGinn held a press conference where he asserted that WSDOT’s tolling figure are inflated. He released this folio.

I did a little more research and dug up a 2002 tolling study as well as 2008 draft study. Both studies were done by Parson Brinkerhoff (See Publicola’s article). The 2002 study estimated that the optimal toll rate (i.e., toll rate that minimizes system delays) could cover between $35-$95 million (2009 dollars) in construction costs. This study showed that on average drivers would pay 31 cents during peak periods, and 16 cents during off-peak periods (2009 dollar).

The 2008 draft study, which was released several weeks after the announcement of the deep-bore tunnel, however, estimate that tolling could support roughly $330 million (2009 dollars). Toll rates were set at a predetermined level to maximize revenue, with peak rates at $1.50 to $2.25 and off-peak rates at $1.10 to $1.25 (2007 dollars).

The 2008 results represents an approximate 4- to 10-fold increase over the 2002 study.

This shows that WSDOT is significantly “over pricing” the tunnel in order to generate the revenue it requires for the deep-bore tunnel. However the additional revenue comes with a significant side-effect, diversion. The high toll rates will cause an estimated 40% of traffic that would otherwise use the tunnel to divert to other routes such as Alaskan Way, downtown streets and I-5. In very rough figures the viaduct carries around 100,000 cars a day, so that works out to roughly 40,000 diverted cars a day. That’s nothing to cough at.

This is yet more evidence that the impacts of the tunnel have been poorly vetted due to WSDOT’s expedited and politically motivated choice of the tunnel.

UPDATE: I want clarify the take away of this post. I’m not disputing the tolling model, rather I’m arguing that the models themselves show that tolls will be significantly higher than what the optimal toll should be. The 2002 study describes the toll rate methodology as;

Assuming that users have perfect information about pricing, that toll revenues are used to make cost-beneficial highway investments, and that pricing is ubiquitous, then short-run marginal cost toll pricing allows the road network to operate with maximum net social benefits from the resources used to build and operate roads. In this case, the economically efficient toll rate maximizes travel time savings, which for a given volume of traffic, minimizes total network travel time.

This means that using the toll rates from 2008 will significantly change travel patters, destabilizing the system, and resulting in increased delay on city streets and I-5 while not fully utilizing tunnel capacity.

37 Replies to “Viaduct Tolling: Tailored for the Tunnel?”

  1. The newer numbers seem much closer to what’s being used elsewhere, e.g. the HOT lanes on 167. Are we sure it’s the later study that was skewed?

    1. The Viaduct is very different from other project simply because there are so many alternative routes that will not be tolled, thus it is much easier for drivers to just drive around the facility. Try doing that with 520 or the TNB.

      Also heavy trucks will be tolled 4 times the normal rate. Will truck drivers pay up to 9 dollars for a few miles especially if they are going from say the port to Ballard? The tunnel is really out of the way.

      1. It boggles my mind that this is an issue for ANYONE who supports the “surface option,” which would divert ALL cars who want to go from north of the city to south of the city and vice versa.

        The surface option will have much more diversion. [unbolded by admin]

      2. Really? Where in the DEIS does it say that the surface option would divert more than 40% of through traffic? Or are you just making that up?

    2. Ugh sorry Josh I keep on adding stuff.

      To directly answer your question. The 2002 study looked at what tolls should be in order to optimize the transportation system (minimize delays). This means fully utilizing the capacity on SR-99 and not diverting too many cars to I-5, making it more of a parking lot than it already is.

      The 2008 study doesn’t take this approach. Its purpose is to see how much revenue can be made, regardless of the impacts it creates on other facilities. So the rates used in the 2008 study will make I-5 and other routes much worse than they would be otherwise.

  2. Remember, folks, the deep-bore tunnel will only carry roughly half the traffic on the current viaduct, due to the absence of connecting ramps to downtown, Belltown, and Ballard — most of the traffic to those destinations will be on surface streets, tho maybe some of the Ballard traffic won’t mind the longer detour via Aurora Ave.

    Tolling revenues need to be adjusted for real-world traffic volumes, omitting the wishful thinking

    1. I think Adam’s numbers at the end were just to describe the 40%, not based on throughput expectations for the tunnel.

  3. It’s also unclear how many trips would use the tunnel even if there was no toll.

    The battery street tunnel only carries 60,000 vehicles per day, and many of those vehicles exit at one of the downtown exits that are eliminated by the tunnel plan. Something like 44,000 vehicles per day currently travel the tunnel route. Assume any diversion at all, and the tunnel is serving only a third or a quarter of existing viaduct traffic.

    1. So how many people is 44,000 vehicles? That sounds like, what, 65,000 people? That seems soooo tiny. Puts the whole thing in perspective.

  4. Adam

    This phrase:

    “This is yet more evidence that the impacts of the tunnel have been poorly vetted due to WSDOT’s expedited and politically motivated choice of the tunnel.”

    Is conspiratorial in thinking and doesn’t really help matters – if most of you guys on the STB Board are so suspicious of State and Local government, how do you expect them to talk to you. The fact that Governor Gregoire, Mayor Nickels and Ron Sims were all Democrats when they agreed on the tunnel, doesn’t necessarily mean that they were “politically motivated” in their decision. It was a rare glimpse of leadership. I spoke to Norm Dicks over the weekend and he said that down the road, the Feds would chip in for the tunnel. At present, they are not listed as contributors but with President Obama in charge and Senator Murray overseeing the transportation needs of Washington State, I have little doubt that some monies will come our way. Just stop second guessing every Government agency and leader because you feel the need to write something in opposition to whatever they decide.

    1. “If most of you guys on the STB Board are so suspicious of State and Local government, how do you expect them to talk to you.”

      I don’t follow your logic. Elected officials only talk to people that are *not* suspicious of them? I’m pretty sure that’s so demonstrably false that I don’t have to bother citing a source. Also, in a democracy a government should fear it’s people, not the other way around.

      “The fact that Governor Gregoire, Mayor Nickels and Ron Sims were all Democrats when they agreed on the tunnel, doesn’t necessarily mean that they were “politically motivated” in their decision.”

      What? We’re talking about WSDOT here and only WSDOT. The mention of Gregoire kind of applies since she technically (though not literally) runs it, but why are the rest name-dropped? I think you’re creating the conspiracy you’re accusing Adam of.

      1. What I mean is that if you set up a populist confrontational atmosphere between yourself and Olympia or WSDOT, how will they take any notice of you? Did anyone listen to George Bush when he was President? Hardly….

        OK, so you think that Government should fear the people? That’s a march to the barricades mentality that gets us events like the WTO riots of 10 years ago in Seattle. Basically – and I have no hidden agenda here as I don’t work for the government at any level or for any government agency – I believe that Olympia, the legislature, the Governor, WSDOT all work better than many of you seem to think they do. We don’t have a governor who absents herself to the Argentina in pursuit of a soul mate; we don’t fortunately have legislators mired in scandal at present and some like Senator Patty Murray are highly respected, hard working people. If you mistrust the people we elect less, then tney lead us more. It is a simple trade off and if you don’t like what they do, then we have the chance to get rid of them (twice) every two or four years depending on the position.

        How I don’t believe we should go to sleep between elections and heavens knows, we will have some work to do if Hutchinson is elected County Executive, but we should be focusing that work on stuff already approved either by the voters (e.g. ST2 across the I-90 bridge deck) or by elected leaders in their capacity as elected leaders whose job descriptions, includes making decisions from time to time on matters of importance to the welfare of all constituents. We once were blaming Governor Gregoire for not making leadership decisions and now you are blaming her for making one. It makes no sense and it is a recipe for no leadership.

    2. Dude, you believe the tunnel’s a good idea. It’s dogma, not reason. All the arguments just slide off. The fact that it raises your cockles when we point out the obvious should really make you go back to your base assumptions.

      1. Ben, if Olympia, Seattle and King County back down from the tunnel as I am sure they will once they realize that the funding isn’t there, then I too will back down, but until that time, let us proceed as if we are going to build the tunnel. I am sure you will get your wish so I wouldn’t get overly heated towards those that think the tunnel might actually be a good idea. It is not just me that likes the idea, but bear in mind, I like decisions better and the Seattle process has gotten us mired in indecision for years on too many projects. Without all of the endless votes, we might actually have a monorail by now between West Seattle and Ballard. That sorry campaign was my first losing campaign and my first eye opener since I moved to the area to the frustrations and inefficiencies of the Seattle process and the endless second guessing and voting until numbers come out differently. Coming from the UK, we are just not used to endless second guessing and voting and we were not necessarily the worse off for it. Do you think the London Underground expanded because of affirmative votes? No, I don’t believe Londoners voted at all for any expansion of the Tube – they were neither asked to, nor is there much evidence they wanted to. I don’t think the London Transportation Authority is an elected body either.

  5. http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/images/06tfdgrid5.gif

    please see the site of the SDOT traffic diagram. about 63K of the 110K daily vehicle trips go through the Battery Street tunnel. that is the market for the deep bore: trips bypassing downtown Seattle. the Western and Elliott ramps to and from the north and the Columbia and Seneca ramps to and from the south will not be provided. the deep bore will increase the capacity for bypass trips by removing the friction of the four ramps listed above and by providing wider lanes and shoulders.

    note that many commentors double count the vehicle trips that are part of the 110K that are also oriented to and from downtown via the Seneca and Columbia ramps. They are already on the downtown streets and would not be added to them by a surface, transit, and I-5 alternative. under the deep bore plan, those trips will use an interchange near Royal Brougham.

    Chris: relatively few of the Battery Street tunnel trips are oriented to and from the Battery and Western ramps at the south end of the BST.

    the AWV deep bore bill from the 2009 Session asked WSDOT to both estimate the cost of the deep bore and the toll revenue. we do not yet know if the deep bore is affordable within the WSDOT budget.

    this discussion shows the merits of systemwide tolling of SR-99, I-5, I-405, I-90, SR-520, and SR-509 to optimize flow. the revenue should be a secondary, but significant benefit, as WSDOT does not have revenue for highway maintenance.

    generally, the BST is not a point of congestion. those tend to be the access ramps and the intersction with the off ramp to the West Seattle freeway.

    1. So let’s say 3k entries/exits at Bell/Western. 60K through trips, and with tolling, that leaves us with 36K trips in the tunnel. Not too many.

      The revenue is required to afford the tunnel, though – they need $400m based on the lowball estimates. That comes ahead of flow because it’ll be backing bonds.

      I appreciate your point that the 110K are often already on city streets – I wonder how many vehicle miles would be added to streets by each of the plans.

    1. The cold, stark reality of that video and the matter-of-fact presentation of the carnage made that scarier than any of the horror flicks out right now. I’m not even kidding, that video frightened me.

      The common wisdom seems to be that the timing of this indicates WSDOT wanted to influence the election and swing things toward Mallahan but, considering McGinn’s surface hybrid plan would let the viaduct come down on the as-planned date of 2012 instead of 2016 with the tunnel, I can’t help but think this will backfire.

  6. The question to ask regarding the video is which replacement option lessens the danger of collapse soonest. The answer to that question is Surface/I-5/Transit by I think it’s 2 years.

    Advantage: Mike McGinn

    Or is it the 4-lane Cut-n-cover or the Deep-bore?

    Rebuilding the Seawall is the critical component and puts the cut-n-cover in last place, as it would combine massive trench construction at the same time.

    However, anything going wrong with Deep-bore construction puts that option in last place. The cut-n-cover decommissions the AWV as soon as the portal at Pike is finished putting that option ahead of the Deep-bore.

    Advantage: Mike McGinn

    Overall, Mike is right to oppose the Deep-bore because it isn’t the best tunnel option nor the ideal solution. The best tunnel is the 4-lane cut-n-cover because it retains the Western/Elliott access for Ballard-bound traffic. The other access ramps – Seneca/Columbia ramps and Battery Street Tunnel access on/off ramps should be decomissioned because they’re hazardous. The ideal solution is Surface/I-5/Transit because it goes furthest toward achieving the inevitable goal of reducing VMT (vehicle miles travelled) even though automobile-related business interests naturally portray this goal as impossible and unnecessary. Watched commercial TV lately? Car ads flattening nature settings continue unabated by the spector of catastrophic climate change.

  7. What if they close the viaduct soon before construction on the tunnel can really get started, and then once people realize that we can live without it, we just end up with surface transit?

    1. You’re right that we can live without it – but by the time you tear it down, you can’t change what option you’ve selected anymore.

  8. Surface option now. it will slow traffic and force people to adopt transit. We need to get ready for the post-carbon economy, and not suck up to those on the dino-juice nipple

  9. Why rely on studies. Why not slap a toll on the existing AWV the same way they are on 520. Use the pre-tolling revenue to fund the project and get an exact picture of how much is too much with respect to diversion. If I might take first crack at answering my own question, it’s because the number they come up with is likely to be closer to the 16 to 31 cent figure in the 2002 study which doesn’t even recover the cost of charging a toll in the first place.

    Simply put, tolling will not provide an effective revenue source for the tunnel unless there is a unified strategy to toll alternate routes which means I-5 and a congestion surcharge on downtown. Bring this to light now and not only would tunnel support evaporate there’d be a recall petition for the Governor. “Everybody” seems to like tolls… as long as somebody else is paying them ;-)

    1. I completely agree. What this really shows is that if tolling is used parallel facilities and routes must also be tolled.

    2. You’re right, of course, but one of the more compelling arguments for this tunnel is freight mobility. If you have to gum up I-5 to get the truck traffic through I’m kind of OK with that. People on the I-5 corridor have a couple of good transit options that are independent of that freeway.

  10. Bernie’s suggestion for early tolling on the AWV is sound. the construction of the deep bore southern portal will reduce SR-99 to two lanes in each direction at the latitude in about two years.

    Mickymse: I do not know what stat you do not understand.

    1. Sound except in the political sense. Follow the fight over tolling 520 and it’s clear there is zero support for concurrent tolling of alternate corridors. Rep. Hunter even tried the “trigger” approach and that failed as an amendment. “Everyone” wants “everyone else” to pay the tolls. There’s no way early tolling will be proposed because the whole house of cards would come tumbling down.

      1. Yeah talk about a way to quickly change public support of the tunnel. I bet you very few regular seattleites know that the viaduct will be tolled. And once you tell them their support will probably go down.

      2. I think very few regular Seattleites understand much about the tunnel. I think most believe it will be the same as the viaduct, just underground. If you told them that they will have fewer lanes, fewer on-ramps, fewer exits, as well as tolls, then support will evaporate very quickly. If you tell them that the tunnel will likely push lots of traffic onto other areas (the surface streets and I-5) but we won’t have any money to improve I-5 or the surface streets, then the surface option (which does include that money, plus money for transit) sounds much better. I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually supports the tunnel. I’ve met plenty of people who say “we need to build something” and then go on about the do-nothing Seattle process. Forgetting of course, that the “do-nothing Seattle process” saved the Pike Place Market, or that the “just build something” attitude got us two stadiums (one with a retractable roof) when one would do just fine.

      3. I don’t think that’s right. Plenty of people fear gridlock if the highway through downtown isn’t replaced. The details aren’t really that important to this “insight.”

        Moreover, the State really holds all the cards in this process and the opinion of the people of Seattle really doesn’t matter very much. The idea of a new elevated highway appears to be dead and I think that’s as much as we’re getting out of this negotiation.

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