Posted on February 27, 2012 at 11:47 PM
Tuesday, Feb 28 at 12:01 AM
SEATTLE – Years before the first car will pay a toll to travel through the new tunnel along the Seattle waterfront, the State Department of Transportation is being forced to significantly revise downward the amount of money it will collect in tolls.
WSDOT is revising the revenue downward by $200 million, in effect cutting the projection in half.
“We felt confident in the projections,” said WSDOT’s David Dye. But Dye says the sluggish economic recovery, and experience with tolling on the 520 bridge has shown people are now more willing to sit in traffic to avoid paying tolls. Traffic volumes on 520 are down by 40%.
“We surveyed the value of time people have,” Dye said. In other words drivers are valuing their time less.
The new calculations were part of an overall look at the $3.1 billion dollar project in advance of going to Wall Street later this year to sell construction bonds.
“The financial world is just different from 2009,” Dye said.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, ran on an anti-tunnel platform. He questioned the tolling forecast during the 2009 campaign. His office, which could have touted the ultimate – “I told you so”, was restrained in reaction to the news. Spokesman Aaron Pickus said, “We are pleased WSDOT is being realistic.”
Dye says the state has already identified $200 million dollars in federal funds which would offset the shortfall in toll revenue.
“There is still a lot of work to do,” Dye said before the financing package is ready to be sent to bond traders, and the numbers could change.
Construction is well underway, parts of the earthquake prone viaduct have already been torn down, and underground utilities are being moved to clear the path for the deep bore tunnel.
The tunnel is on track to open to traffic in 2015.