Tolling on 520 bridge to begin in December
August 30, 2011 · Updated 4:36 PM
Tolling on State Route 520 across Lake Washington will start in December, the Washington State Department of Transportation announced last week.
There is no hard date to begin the tolls, which will vary by time of day, as testing of the equipment continues.
WSDOT Deputy Secretary David Dye said the department received input from an expert review panel, an internal audit and from ongoing testing of the system. The feedback is being used, he said, to ensure that all components, including software and hardware, are fully operational before tolling starts.
Starting approximately a month before tolling begins, WSDOT will conduct test runs in which the equipment will connect with Good to Go passes and photograph license plates of cars without passes, free of charge, to give the equipment a "dress rehearsal", WSDOT spokeswoman Patty Michaud said.
Tolling on the bridge was set to begin this spring, but problems during the testing phase led to months of delays.
“It has been no secret that we’ve had challenges getting this system up and running, and the work has been more difficult than we anticipated,” Dye said. “The requirements we’ve established are rigorous because we want to be totally accountable for the tolls that are collected.”
According to an expert report sent to WSDOT earlier this month, the start date of April was too ambitious, but delays that extended beyond June had more to do with the toll collecting company, Electronic Transactions Consultants. Michaud said the contract between the organizations calls for ETC to pay penalties of $300,000 for every week of delay after July 9, a figure which is under negotiation.
Though WSDOT has had issues with ETC, the expert panel recommended sticking with the company as any change could lead to an additional two years of delay.
Much of the issue comes with the fact that such a system has never been implemented before. With a host of tolling facilities in the Puget Sound area, WSDOT has committed to keeping the revenue from each area in a separate pot. None of the features are new, but they have never been aggregated before, Michaud said.
"Electronic tolling already exists, photo tolling already exists, but we're taking the best of everything and putting them into one system," Michaud said.
SR 520 will be the first bridge in the state with all-electronic tolling, rather than the cash-collection tollbooths that are part of the system at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The all-electronic system, which allows tolls to be collected at highway speeds, will be able to track and handle more than 100,000 daily transactions on the SR 520 bridge. The tolls will be captured either through Good To Go windshield stickers or through license-recognition photos, which automatically generate a bill that is mailed to drivers. Photo tolls carry with them an additional $1.50 charge. Tolls in peak hours will be as high as $3.50 each way.
Dye said a delayed start date for SR 520 tolling will not affect planned toll charges, which are used to pay off 30- and 40-year bonds for construction of the new bridge. With a delayed start, bond repayments will extend out a few months at the end of the bond period. Tolling on SR 520 is expected to raise $1 billion overall toward the $4.65 billion SR 520 bridge replacement and HOV program, which builds 12.8 miles of safety and mobility improvements from Interstate 5 in Seattle to SR 202 in Redmond. The project contains a $2 billion budget shortfall.