Will the 520 Toll Bridge Change Where You Live?

Good-to-Go-520Before we talk about the potential future impact on Real Estate of charging up to $10.00 a day for traveling on the 520 bridge, let’s look at a few notes.

1) The first guy to use the Bridge since the toll was put in place was going 76 miles an hour. Why? Reportedly because the rate you pay is time dependent, and he only had a few seconds to beat the higher toll cost. When the car or cars in front of you are traveling too slow, and upping your intended cost of making it through the toll indicator…well, we might be seeing a little more “road rage”, I think.

2) Traffic on The 520 Bridge is reportedly down 45% and the I-90 Bridge traffic is reportedly up 20%. Not much more on that until we get past the Holidays. Plus I’m sure there are many who are not wanting to be the first guinea pigs of the new system.

3) On a personal note, I heard Kim griping as he was registering his pass. He purchased it at Safeway. He said there were 7 or 8 pages of data needed to complete the online registration. Sounded like they wanted his blood type and shoe size to get to the end of it all. 🙂 …and the Good To Go Sticker is still sitting on the table.

When you think about the potential of paying $2,000, give or take, a year to get where you need to go, I would think this change makes it that much more important for you to live on the same side of the bridge as where you work.

Moving to that same side of The Bridge will likely impact those renting vs owning more in the first year. Buying in a location that does not involve the toll will also have it’s impact in the first year of operation. But actually selling your home to buy elsewhere due to the cost of the new toll? I doubt that factor alone will be the single impetus for moving…but it might just be “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

If it continues to make getting the the other side much faster…well, many may think the toll is worth the added speed. Some will move, just “on principle”.

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ARDELL is a Managing Broker with Better Properties METRO King County. ARDELL was named one of the Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers in the U.S. by Inman News and has 33+ years experience in Real Estate up and down both Coasts, representing both buyers and sellers of homes in Seattle and on The Eastside. email: ardelld@gmail.com cell: 206-910-1000

38 thoughts on “Will the 520 Toll Bridge Change Where You Live?

  1. I know someone on the Eastside who is quiting his job in Seattle and getting a job on the Eastside.

    The toll will just increase gas consumption due to people diverting to other routes to avoid the toll. It simply increases the stress and burden for those who can least afford the toll. Net-net, it is a drain on the economy (time wasted to avoid toll, increased gas consumption, increased transport cost.)

  2. Thank you for the comment, Eastsider. I am sure there will be some shifting, as you noted, as I myself will be back on the Eastside by month end. 🙂

    I will still have to travel using our Good to Go Pass. In fact my next new listing is on the Seattle side. I work both sides of the 520 Bridge. So it is not as clear for me.

    I have a friend who works in a large real estate brokerage in an administrative capacity, and she is choosing to stay on the Seattle side, even though “her office” is in Bellevue. But she has to travel to all the branches…so for us, one side or the other is not as clearly defined as someone who goes to work in the same place every day.
    Having a toll seems “fair” in that those who use it will pay for the new one. But I think they should have started it from the beginning vs trying to play “catch up” at $7 a day. The amount seems excessive to me, though I’m not against having a toll in theory. Anything over $2.50 each way seems excessive to me.

    I’m wondering if it would make more sense if both bridges initiated a toll at the same time in an equal amount. Both will need repair and replacement…why wait until that repair and replacement is imminent? They would have been better off if they charged a buck a long time ago, and there doesn’t seem to be much basis for tolling one and not the other, as far as I can tell, except short-sightedness.

  3. Ardell,

    Why do people using I-90 get a “free” bridge while people crossing 520 are to “pay” for the bridge? We now pay way more taxes on transportation compared to a couple decades ago. Unfortunately, most of the transportation money was not well spent or got diverted to other state programs.

    The toll bridges and HOT lanes basically price the poor out of the roads. For goodness sake, we are one of the most liberal states in the nation and the poor are deprived of this basic service. The rich can get from point A to point B in less time than ever. This is just not right. We need leaders with brains to get more mileage out of the existing revenue.

    Happy New Year.

    • Eastsider,

      I am used to toll bridges as I grew up in Philadelphia. Many toll bridges in Philly, Jersey and New York. Used to love the NYC concept where they charged you to get in, but not to get out. Kind of like “it’s our town…and you can leave for free. thank you very much!”. LOL!

      Not 100% up to speed with the whole State politics of most of the State not wanting to pay for something only Seattle people use. But it seems fair to me, if it was started early enough to defray the cost gradually. But likely that’s because I view it the same way I view a condo fee.

      Only fair for owners to pay x monthly toward a new roof…even if they don’t live there when the roof needs to be purchased. Not fair for the last guy to pay for it all via a special assessment.

      I see the bridge issue the same way as I see condo dues. He who uses it and creates the wear and tear should pony up for repairs and replacement. But again…that likely is because I am relating it to the same method used for condo complexes. Someone who drove the bridge every day for 20 years shouldn’t get away Scott Free just because he moves out of area when it’s time to replace the Bridge. Users paying as they go seems right to me.

      Based on the geography, it is like the Tacony Palmyra Bridge to me, which costs $2.00 Westbound Only. That would have seemed to be a fair cost to me. $1.00 each way or $2.00 into Seattle only.

      I think I heard on the news that they used The George Washington Bridge as the prototype for costing. I don’t think that was an accurate analogy. Going form Bellevue to Seattle is not the same as going form New Jersey into New York City. I think they went a little overboard on that comparison. I love Seattle…but it’s no NYC.

      A buck to get in and a buck to get out sounds more in line with the realities.

      • P.S. I also read some claim that it is the first toll bridge to have different prices based on time of day…uh…no…it isn’t. Funny…you’d think the news sources could Google that before making that claim. 🙂

    • Eastsider –

      I-90 is federally funded and not allowed to be tolled by the state. There are a few spots of I-90 that are tolled in the Midwest and out East, but those sections were grandfathered in when the federal government incorporated those roadways into the interstate system, along with all of the other tolled interstates out that way.


      There is a pilot program that allows states to request permission to toll an interstate road, but it is very limited, but according to this article, it is very limited (info under “Exception to the rule”):


      This probably does not ease the frustration, but it is the reason why.

      • Thank you so much for that info! Really appreciate it!

        That makes perfect sense! I’m not used to a “bridge” being an Interstate Highway, and was not making that connection. On that basis I think many bridges that are not Interstate Highways do have tolls…because they can.

        Excellent comment!

        From a Real Estate perspective…the I-90 Corridor was already an issue price-wise…so I don’t think it will push prices up at that end as much as it will cause a shift on the areas on either side of The 520.

        It could be a boost for Mercer Island.

  4. The median household income in Seattle is about $60k. $7 toll a day for 5 days a week is $1,820 per year. It is 3% of household (pre-tax) income! On top of that, we are already paying gas and other taxes for transportation. It just shows you how dysfunctional the state budget situation has become. Had the state not built 2 stadiums and been wasteful, we might have enough funds to pay for the bridge.

    • But don’t you think it’s because “the State” doesn’t really want to pay for a “Seattle” Bridge? All the people who would never use it? It’s not uncommon for the cost of Bridges to be borne by the people who use it. Clearly many bridges in the Country have a toll to pay for using it.

      What do you think about both bridges having a toll so it is only $3.50 vs $7.00? It would also solve the problem of the I-90 getting the overflow to avoid the toll.

      I don’t think no toll at all is the answer.

      You think a City should have no Stadium? I don’t think the median household income of people who use the Bridge 5 days a week is $60,000. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

  5. Perhaps you are unaware that we voted not to build the Safeco Field. Instead we got two new stadiums built in return. There was a Kingdom but I’m sure it was an eyesore for the politicians and wealthy patrons.

    Now that the toll is in place, the median household income of people using the Bridge is probably in the 6 figure. This is exactly my point. We are pricing the lower income people out of using the bridge altogether. We now have half as much traffic on the bridge than a week ago. People living in the greater Seattle area pay for the vast majority of the STATE transportation budget. And we have never asked the rural area to pay their proportion of the transportation budget. So why must the cost of 520 bridge be borne by the people who use it. (How about the I-90 bridge? the State Ferries?) Again, it just shows the dysfunctional state of current budget.

    • I appreciate your comments as I do learn from them. My thinking is it shouldn’t be so expensive. But you give no alternative price other than free. Personally, I think the age of “free” stuff has come to an end.

      Sure, we can say that an entity that did not spend money wisely in the past should…but that doesn’t solve the problem. They can’t go back and get that mis-spent money to pay for today’s needs or tomorrow’s needs.

      I am a pragmatist and tend to see things from what course of action should be taken, if not this one. In that regard…what money was spent on in the past has no relevance. We can’t bring it back.

      If they want people to use the I-90 Bridge more and The 520 Bridge less for some reason, then having a toll on one and not the other would make sense. I often go through Northgate, Lake City and use Bothell Highway to get to the other side of the Lake. In doing so I often stop to do errands at stores along the way. So you can say it supports the businesses to use the alternate routes vs the Bridges.

      You elect officials that you think will make wise decisions. Not all…but most. I’m not a big fan of trying to micro-manage those officials by voting on each item. Rather I think they are in a better position to see the big picture and make choices accordingly. But then I’m from a Commonwealth, where that is the case.

  6. I am not advocating for “free” toll but $3.50 each way is way over the top. The state can’t even increase sale tax by .5% in this economy. The 3% toll tax on median household pre-tax income is draconian. According to a Seattle Times article (2/23/2010, a median income household in Seattle pays about $2,320 in retail sales tax a year. The $1,820 toll charge is equivalent to an increase of sales tax from 9.5% to near 17% for a median income household! For a lower income household, the burden is significantly higher. The current toll is a horrible idea. It is like asking rural area residents to pay for the full cost of road construction and maintenance in their areas.

    I personally don’t believe that our current state budget is any better than the previous years. It is still wasteful and full of special interest needs.

    As for the toll, I think they will be surprised by the short-fall in collection. The numbers I provided here is the reason.

    • This is the official answer, which basically suggests carpooling or traveling by bus.

      Q. Are tolls on SR 520 unfair to those with lower incomes?

      A. We are sensitive to the economic circumstances of all users of tolled roads. For the SR 520 Bridge, WSDOT looked at how tolling would affect drivers with limited incomes and learned that it was critical for people to have multiple choices for traveling across the bridge. King County Metro and Sound Transit have added nearly 130 new bus trips to the existing 600 trips occurring daily on the SR 520 Bridge. Drivers can also share their commute by vanpooling or carpooling, or take advantage of telecommute programs at their work. Low income customers may also use Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT/Quest) cards to establish and replenish a Good To Go! account.

      I have to admit that when I was a salaried bank employee who needed to cross the toll bridge to get to work, I did not drive to work. I used public transportation.

      To Eastsider – Using funds wisely is difficult for everyone, not just governing entities. What would you think if anyone with an income of less than X was forgiven the toll, and you saw the free toll people grabbing a $3.50 latte before going to work? Would you feel the same about those making $100,000+ paying for those whose incomes were $60,000 or less?

      The highest fares are between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.

      I usually try to limit my travel times to non-peak already. Do you personally use the 520 Bridge 5 days a week during peak hours?

    • Back to Real Estate…looking at that fee schedule in the Link Above, I have no doubt that the toll will have an impact on people’s home buying decisions. I’m estimating the cost at roughly $2,000 or even $4,000 if there are two people working on the other side in the household and driving separate cars to work.

      The math of that is you would have to spend $70,000 less on a home to compensate for the toll if there are two driving wage earners in the family using the bridge at different times and $35,000 less for one person taking the bridge vs two, based on current mortgage rates.

  7. I do not work in Seattle and don’t travel to Seattle 5x a week. I can afford the toll and have already taken a couple trips across 520 since tolling began. I am not complaining about my situation because the toll actually makes my travel to Seattle faster and more predictable. I just feel that the current state budget situation is so dysfunctional that basic services such as transport and higher education are being cut to the bone. There are other areas that can be cut but they are untouchable because of special interests.

    • I’m not much of a whiner about politics and such. Just not my thing. Also, I don’t think there is any way to make everyone happy. You elect people…and let it go…is how I feel about it.

      But I appreciate the chat!

      It will curtail my driving somewhat. I was going to head over to my storage unit with some things…but elected to wait until I could make one trip being sure I have all the items I need to bring back to my Staging Inventory.

      So…maybe it’s a good thing. Less gas…less travel…more conscientious about using resources. It really can be seen as a good thing.

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