520 tolling? Anybody's guess
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
June 30, 2011 · Updated 9:04 AM
The opening date for tolling on State Route 520 remains up in the air as testing continues.
As the plan went through the Legislature earlier this year, the goal was to open it as soon as possible to collect revenue to help rebuild the floating bridge. But the testing has proved complex, and the opening date has been delayed several times. As a result the Washington State Department of Transportation doesn't have a firm date in mind. Testing is expected to continue through July, at least.
"We're just working on testing and trying to do everything as soon as we can, but we're really trying to make sure everything is ready to go before we start," said Patty Michaud, a spokeswoman for WSDOT.
Because of the delayed opening of the tolling facilities, Michaud said, tolling accounting firm Electronic Transaction Consultants will not be paid $2 million for their services. WSDOT has also said it will take a more active role in overseeing ETC's management of the toll system. Representatives from the Texas-based firm declined to comment.
WSDOT's agreement with ETC features $300,000 in weekly fines if delays extend past July 9.
The delays of the system are causing WSDOT to lose out on $1 million worth of tolling revenue each week the system is not active. This, in turn, means it will take longer to pay off bonds. Michaud said the state was unsure whether the delays could cause the new bridge to open later. She said the estimates were on the timing were very conservative.
WSDOT runs several tolling facilities already, including the Tacoma Narrows bridge and the State Route 167 high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. Each facility has resulted in new features, so the testing is always a new process.
The use of photo tolling is another complex piece of the 520 puzzle, state officials say. Cameras and sensors under the freeway that can measure the number of axles on the vehicle are being used to charge drivers who don't have transponders. For those who don't have transponders and Good to Go accounts, WSDOT will mail bills for the amount of the toll, plus an additional $1.50 charge. Rates are set to vary by time of day with peak times costing $3.50 each way.
Tolling is expected to pay for $1.1 billion of the $4.65 billion project. WSDOT is still attempting to bridge a $2 billion funding gap on the project.
Michaud said some of the difficulty in setting up the system comes with the fact that WSDOT wants to avoid using one big fund for all tolling sources.
"Because of photo tolling, because of all electronic system on 520, because we have a very specific account system, I believe most systems across the U.S. don't have the level of scrutiny of our facilities," Michaud said. "We're very particular that all the income that comes through one facility stays in that facility, and that makes the finances and accounting more complicated."Contact Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer Nat Levy at email@example.com or 425-453-4290.