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City of Kenmore considers vehicle fee, toll on Sammamish River Bridge

Kenmore officials are considering a first-of-its-kind city-implemented toll on the Sammamish River Bridge to fund worn out streets and bridges. City officials say several large cracks on the east bridge, which was built in 1970, are widening, partly due to increased traffic avoiding the 520 tolls.  - Matt Phelps/Bothell Reporter
Kenmore officials are considering a first-of-its-kind city-implemented toll on the Sammamish River Bridge to fund worn out streets and bridges. City officials say several large cracks on the east bridge, which was built in 1970, are widening, partly due to increased traffic avoiding the 520 tolls.
— image credit: Matt Phelps/Bothell Reporter

Kenmore officials are considering a first-of-its-kind city-implemented toll on the Sammamish River Bridge, along with a vehicle fee to fund worn out streets and bridges.

The City of Kenmore established a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) last spring to deal with these issues. Now the TBD needs funding.

The TBD Board is considering two funding options: a vehicle fee and possibly variable-rate tolling on the Sammamish River Bridge. If a tolling option were to be approved at the city level it would be the first of its kind in the state.

The board will take up the issue for just the second time during a council meeting at 8:30 p.m. Monday at Kenmore City Hall.

“The council needs to give us direction on what they prefer and then we would come back with an ordinance,” said Kenmore City Manager Rob Karlinsey. He also noted that the city has put a lot of money into State Route 522 and hopes the state will participate in funding the bridge replacement.

City staff recommends that the TBD adopts a $20 vehicle fee. Under state law, a TBD may impose an annual vehicle fee of up to $20 per vehicle without a public vote. The TBD can impose a higher fee if sent to and approved by voters. The fee would only be imposed on Kenmore residents to pay for transportation projects within the city and be levied on all vehicles in Kenmore and trailers weighing more than 2,000 pounds.

“It would go primarily towards 68th Avenue and Juanita Drive, which are main arterials,” said Karlinsey. “Those are the two roads that need to get done in the near future.”

The tab tax would also go towards all road repair and resurfacing projects.

To keep Kenmore's road system from deteriorating, Karlinsey said the city needs to bring in about $1 million a year. The vehicle fee would bring in about $300,000 a year.

The vehicle fee would be added to existing road-repair revenue.

The $20 fee, which would be spent on transportation infrastructure improvements such as street repair, is estimated to bring in $1.3 million during the first five years and nearly $4 million in years 16-20.

But one of the most important pending transportation projects for the city is replacing the west Sammamish River Bridge. At an estimated cost of $20 million, the tab tax would not even begin to scratch the asphalt surface.

City staff has requested direction from the TBD on the possibility of variable-rate tolls. The TBD Board is still in very preliminary discussions about the variable-rate tolling option based on residency.

Under the plan, Kenmore residents would pay a toll of between 25-50 cents per trip. But non-Kenmore residents could pay as much as $1 per trip across the bridge. City officials even question whether it would be constitutional.

With all users paying 25 cents per trip, it is estimated that the city could raise $4.4 million during the first five years and $16.6 million in years 16-20. If all users paid 50 cents per trip the city could raise $9 million during the first five years and $30.8 million during years 16-20. But a split of 25 cents for residents and $1 for non-residents would raise $15.7 million during the first five years and $49.4 million during years 16-20.

The west bridge was constructed in 1938, while the east bridge was built in 1970.

“Several large cracks in the west bridge that had been relatively stable since 1998 are now ‘moving’ and wider,” according to city documents.

King County officials are in the process of assessing the bridge’s condition but “County staff has indicated that the structural ‘code’ they will assign to the west bridge will likely be below 40,” city documents continue.

A rating of 50 or lower indicates that the bridge needs to be replaced.

The Bridge Replacement Advisory Committee (BRAC), used to provide money to replace bridges, may be modified in the near future due to reduced federal funding. In the past, the BRAC program paid for 80 percent of bridge funding.

It is estimated that 5.8 million vehicle trips are made over the east and west Sammamish River Bridges per year. The road is more than just a main thoroughfare in Kenmore – it is a commuting passage for many on Finn Hill, Kirkland and the Eastside.

The only other tolls in Washington state are imposed on the 520 and Tacoma Narrows bridges, and HOV HOT lane tolls on Highway 167.

One option that the TBD took off the table is a hike in city sales tax.

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