Seattle’s SR 99 Tunnel Seeking State Bailout

The Washington Transportation Commission plans to ask the state for funds to make up the growing revenue gap of the SR 99 tunnel in Seattle, reports Ryan Packer in The Urbanist.

Tolls on the deep bore tunnel underneath downtown Seattle were originally set to contribute $200 million toward the cost of the $1.35 billion construction cost plus cover upkeep, but earlier this year the state treasurer’s office came before the commission and warned of a ‘permanent reduction in revenues’ following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic that likely could not be made up for in toll rate increases, which increase traffic diversion to toll-free surface streets.

Traffic in the tunnel is expected to drop next year with the opening of a four-lane overpass near Pike Place Market, Packer notes. “Even with the autumn surge, toll revenue trajectory is well below the level required to make the tunnel’s financial plan sustainable.” 

Meanwhile, efforts to put the city on the hook for cost overruns have failed in the state legislature. Commenting on the tunnel’s long history of being passed around by various authorities, Packer concludes, “Just a few years after the tunnel’s grand opening, it looks like it has become a White Elephant that no one wants to keep in their stocking.”

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