$2.38 billion Puget Sound Gateway toll roads program back on track after COVID-19 | Washington

On Wednesday morning, the Washington State Transportation Commission was updated on the $2.38 billion Puget Sound Gateway Program that will close two of the state’s major transportation gaps—State Route 167 in Pierce County and State Route 509 in King County.

Traffic and revenue work is under way for the program in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic that at its height caused a steep decline in the number of vehicles on the road, explained Washington State Department of Transportation Toll Division Director Edward Barry during the second day of the commission’s two-day virtual meeting.

In Pierce County, WSDOT plans to build four miles of new highway to complete the missing link between SR 167 in Puyallup and Interstate 5 in Fife. The SR 167 project also includes a new two-mile connection from I-5 to the Port of Olympia.

In King County, plans call for extending SR 509 to increase connectivity between Seattle and south King County, as well as providing a north-south alternative to I-5. The SR 509 extension will also create a new southern access point to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and serve as an alternative to I-5, State Route 99, and local streets.

Both projects are being completed simultaneously in three distinct stages of construction that goes on through 2028.

The overall goal of the project is to relieve traffic congestion and improve mobility – including freight – between Tacoma and Seattle.

“It provides essential connections to the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle,” Barry said. “It ensures people and goods move reliably through the Puget Sound region, and enhances our economic competitiveness by connecting to the ports.”

He added that delivering the projects under one program is meant to allow WSDOT to realize efficiencies in planning, environmental review, design, and construction.

“It’s also important to remember that these are new roadways,” Barry told the commission. “We don’t necessarily expect diversion associated with these. We expect to attract new customers to these roadways.”

He noted WSDOT did some pre-pandemic traffic and revenue work in 2018 and is now in the process of doing post-pandemic traffic and revenue work.

“So that’s under way right now and is due to be completed in spring of 2023,” Barry said.

He went on to explain the work is meant to consider the realities of a post-COVID environment.

“Well, what’s included in the baseline scenario for this upgraded or updated work for Gateway?” Barry asked rhetorically.

The baseline scenario includes funded projects only, he explained, as well as minimum and maximum toll rates from the 2018 study and a toll exemption for the Puyallup Tribe.

The Puget Sound Gateway Program is meant to be consistent with other WSDOT toll facilities, Barry said, including $2 extra per trip for paying by mail, 25-cents extra per trip for taking a photograph of a license plate and mailing a bill to the address associated with the vehicle, an axle-based multiplier for multi-axle vehicles, and registered transit vehicles being exempt from tolling.

Low-income discounts, high occupancy vehicle/carpool exemptions, and toll rate escalations are not included in the baseline scenario.

“That’s what’s going into the baseline scenario to update this work and give us a better idea of ​​what some of the financial capacity might be post-COVID for the Gateway programs,” Barry concluded. “So this is good work that has been undertaken by traffic and revenue consultants.”