Plans call for lowering Whittier tunnel fees

Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2002

ANCHORAGE -- The state plans to reduce the cost of driving through the Whittier Tunnel after residents complained the toll was discouraging visitors and unfair to them.

The state plans to cut the round-trip toll from $15 to $12 for vehicles beginning June 8. Motor homes or vehicles pulling boats would pay $20 -- half the current price. Buying a book of tickets or a season pass will reduce the cost even further.

In the 12 months ending March 31, tolls amounted to about $1.45 million, but it costs $3.6 million to maintain the tunnel.

The reduced toll should increase traffic enough to cover the loss of revenue, said Murph O'Brien, spokesman for the State Department of Transportation.

Converting the Alaska Railroad tunnel to accommodate both cars and trains was supposed to put the economically strapped community on track as a big-time tourist destination and reduce living expenses for residents.

State planners projected visitation to Whittier would explode with highway access, from about 100,000 people per year to up to 650,000.

Instead the $80 million tunnel completed two years ago attracted only about 67,000 vehicles and between 130,000 and 150,000 people during its first year of charging tolls, O'Brien said.

As an economic catalyst, Whittier officials have called it ''disastrous.'' Others have complained that the cost of tickets has been unfair to residents trying to go shopping, see doctors or run errands.

''The feedback that we got was that people were coming up to the tunnel and turning around, especially if they were in something larger than a passenger vehicle or if they were in a passenger vehicle pulling a boat trailer,'' he said.

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