Should the Ballard Locks charge a toll?

Last week our state’s top lawmakers asked the Trump Administration for funding for “urgent” repairs to the Ballard Locks.

The Seattle Times editorial board followed up with an opinion piece that “the federal government needs to find funding to maintain and upgrade the Ballard Locks and ensure passage to the Lake Washington Ship Canal remains safe and reliable.”

Then the Times published a letter from one of its readers that asks: why is it still free for boats to pass through the Locks?

Reader Kenneth Torp suggested charging a toll, not for commercial boats or kayaks, but for pleasure craft. “Most of the vessels that transit the Locks are pleasure craft — yachts and power boats,” he writes. “Their owners are not on food stamps.”

It’s currently free to travel through the Locks.

Given all the recent tolls in our area — I-405, the 520 bridge and the Highway 99 tunnel when it opens in 2019 — what do you think of the idea to toll non-commercial boats at the Ballard Locks?

Geeky Swedes

The founders of My Ballard

16 thoughts to “Should the Ballard Locks charge a toll?”

  1. Well you could charge a toll. Remember the rule of unintended consequences.

    All of the recreational services in fresh water will suffer a huge loss. Thousands of high paying jobs will be lost and many fresh water moorages will go belly up.

    I don’t know a faster way to destroy an industry that provides jobs and pays tons of taxes.

  2. I think a moderate toll isn’t going to kill the fresh water moorages. You have to factor in that salt water hates boats leading to extra cost of maintaining a boat that is kept in salt water. That cost and the limited availability of slips in a city that is rapidly expanding and growing more wealthy will keep those waterfront land owners out of the bread lines. An extra $10-100 depending on boat size seems reasonable and would probably only pay for a small portion of the cost of maintaining the locks so they would be still reaping the rewards of substantial government subsidy.

  3. Awe the slippery slope of life. I believe these boaters also must attend a safety class and display a sticker stating so, and play by the Coast Guards rules. Something cyclists need to look into if we want to talk fees/boats. After all, we DO want to be fair and equal. People had better be careful when wanting to tax this and that as there are opposite reactions doing so.

  4. Why is this a Federal and not a State issue? Why is the Fed responsible for shelling out tax-payer dollars to keep a facility functioning that benefits commercial enterprises? Seems much of the bill should be paid for by the people who directly benefit and profit from the locks…namely the pleasure and commercial enterprises that use it.

  5. Before the locks where built, it was a navigable waterway. Salmon Bay was salt water. Maritime law prohibits charging a fee to use a navigable waterway. The Ballard Locks are the only one in the in the country that does not charge a fee, I believe. Most lock systems were built to create passage that did not exist before.

  6. Don’t forget to add an admissions fee at the gate for people to enter the property, see the gardens, the fish ladder, and the boats.

  7. ” Something cyclists need to look into if we want to talk fees/boats. ”

    As soon as there’s a bridge that goes up for one piddly bicycle the way there is now for one dopey little sail boat, I’ll gladly register my bike, even if no system exists.

    Recreational boaters get plenty of perks from the city , state and federal government.

  8. There is a parking lot charge now. I used to go there in the fifties no charge for parking. The same goes for the zoo, no parking fees. You people in Seattle want to charge for everything. Thank God I’m outta there.

  9. Interesting question and comments but not a new subject and no easy answer. Common sense takes a back seat to the fact that The LOCKS ARE A FEDERAL FACILITY, under the Department of Defense and The Corps of Engineers who build and run the Locks who are part of the US Army. Believe it or not, the Locks are a military facility. Think about the layers of bureaucracy and the difficulties in trying to collect any kind of fee and get that money to actually do any good at the Locks.

    The Corps of Engineers are not allowed by law to directly receive/handle money for operations at any specific location. Currently all funding can only come from Congressional appropriations and any fees collected would have to be done by an outside contractor (hired by the Federal Contracting). All the money collected, minus the cost of collections (there are no collection facilities right now) would be sent back to the US Treasury and not even earmarked to be returned to the Locks, just dumped into the Federal abyss. After all this, the revenue back to the Locks would net out at less than 25%, assuming the Locks even gets any back.

    Case in point, the parking lot at the main entrance is run by the City of Seattle and around $250,000/yr is collected but none comes back to the Locks and this is a local issue.

    Frankly, it makes way more sense to support our Washington lawmakers efforts to simply get the Federal government to just pony up some money to keep the Locks operational. The fact that the Locks provide over $1.2Billion/yr in economic benefits to Seattle is justification enough for better funding. There are plenty of existing taxes/fees out there already.

    On a side note, we could use some local support helping out with renovation efforts to improve visitor facilities at the Locks, which is not covered by Federal funding.

    These worn our and outdated visitor facilities are frankly embarrassing for our world class city and do require local non government support. Check out the Ballard locks website to see what is going on and how you can help.

  10. I hope the Trump administration and congress will look at this renovation favorably, but playing golf in Florida costs money too, so what’s more important?

  11. The article fails to state that a tax on marine diesel partly funds the Army Corp of Engineers nationwide.

    Recreational boaters are lowest priority when going through the locks, there is no guaranteed of getting through in a reasonable amount of time. But if a toll were to be charged would those boaters expect that the more toll you pay the quicker you get through the locks? As it is, check out the lines of boats waiting to return on Sunday afternoon.

  12. Rich – You are right about the visitor center at the Locks; it is in very poor shape. If the money from parking was invested in the visitor center it could take care of it. The Locks are one of Seattle’s most popular tourist attractions and contribute to our economy in that way. Well worth updating.

    1. Don
      Yes, marine fuel tax helps indirectly but it just goes into the State & Federal Abyss and doesn’t really get earmarked for the Locks…plus there are a lot of exemptions that diminish the return. Since this is a Federal facility and by law “commercial” navigation is the priority, recreational boaters paying a fee doesn’t change that.

      There is an obvious disconnect between the parking fees being collected by the City of Seattle and any return to benefit the Locks…we are trying to address that.

  13. 1st World Problems right here… I have a pleasure craft (when it’s FUN) and am willing to kick in a fiver every so often when we have to transit out to Puget Sound.

    If i can afford to leave the boat in moorage (which SUCKS -but is worth it) then i can afford this.

  14. By law the locks can not charge a “toll”. The reason? It’s actually quite simple. Before the locks were put in, the waterway between the Puget Sound all the up to what is now the Ballard Bridge, was a “navigable waterway” (yes, on a high tide a boat could get through). The law states, ‘If you alter a navigable waterway, you can not charge for it.’ That was one of the biggest reason why USACE, picked this location and was awarded the contract, instead of private sectors competing for the project.

Leave a Reply