SR 520 tolling has Kenmore leaders worried
October 20, 2010 · Updated 3:20 PM
Local officials continue to express concern and skepticism over the possible impact tolling on the State Route 520 bridge might have on traffic along State Route 522.
At one of their recent regular meetings, Kenmore City Council heard largely the same state presentation regarding tolling as was given to their counterparts in Bothell early last month.
Also as in Bothell, officials showed plenty of skepticism over state projections regarding how many commuters might move their daily drives from 520 to 522, becoming willing to drive around Lake Washington rather than pay to cross the lake via the 520 bridge.
Kenmore City Councilman Glenn Rogers said flatly he does not trust the state estimates of how many cars might be diverted from SR 520 to SR 522 when tolling on the bridge gets underway next spring.
“I don’t understand,” Rogers said.
Rogers noted that under one state plan, drivers would spend $7 a day to cross the bridge for one round-trip commute. At one point, he also complained that Kenmore and other cities impacted by diversions from 520 won’t see a dime of tolling proceeds.
According to information presented both councils, initial state estimates showed as few as 60 drivers altering their route from 520 to 522 during peak hours in order to avoid the tolls. WSDOT officials adjusted those figures in April.
For morning rush hours, the state now estimates 140 diversions to 522, an increase of 8.2 percent in traffic. In the afternoon peak hours, revised figures show 150 diversions or a 6.4 percent traffic increase.
Craig Stone is the director of tolling for WSDOT. In the past, he has said the tolling would not have a “dramatic impact on 522.”
Councilman John Hendrickson said he was worried about other major Kenmore streets in addition to 522. He said cars going to and coming from Kirkland and other cities might end up on Juanita Drive or Simonds Road instead of 522.
For his part, Stone said the state had studied possible diversions to other roadways besides 522, but he did not have those numbers readily available.
Councilman Allan Van Ness described the state’s diversion figures as WSDOT’s “best guess.” But he also said there’s no way for anyone to know for sure at this point what the ultimate impact of tolling might be. Van Ness argued continued monitoring and follow-up by the state will be key.
In the past, Stone has said the state’s traffic diversion estimates are based on information obtained from other tolling experiences both in Washington and around the country.
Stone also has said the state did extensive surveying trying to determine the value of time to local drivers. In other words, the state tried to figure how much drivers would be willing to pay to shave five or 10 minutes off their drive time.
Mayor David Baker was not present for Stone’s recent presentation to the Kenmore City Council. But Baker has expressed plenty of concern regarding potential traffic diversions to 522.
“We believe very strongly there’s going to be a large number of diversions,” Baker said.
Baker added that Kenmore officials already had authorized traffic counts at what they considered several key locations along 522. Air quality study also are in the works along the state route.
“We just want to have our own base numbers,” Baker said.
As most know, the state plans to begin tolling on the 520 floating bridge in the spring primarily as a means to raise funds to replace the aging structure. One-way tolls could range from $3.50 to $3.80 during peak hours, but only if your car is equipped with a special electronic card that can be mounted to a vehicle windshield. When the card is triggered, the toll is deducted from an account in your name.
If the card is not in place on your vehicle, cameras will snap a picture of the license plate of any car using the bridge and mail the owner of the vehicle a bill for up to $5 per trip across the bridge.
Final fee decisions are expected in January.