Tolling on SR 520 bridge starts Dec. 29
By STAFF REPORT
Bothell Reporter Reporter
December 8, 2011 · Updated 12:03 PM
The countdown is on for drivers who use State Route 520. Starting Dec. 29, drivers will pay an electronic toll to cross the bridge and the Washington State Department of Transportation is urging travelers to get ready by setting up a Good To Go! account.
“Tolling is helping Washington move forward with critical transportation investments and will finance ongoing and future work to replace the vulnerable SR 520 floating bridge and corridor,” said Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Secretary Paula Hammond in today's press conference. “SR 520 toll revenue will provide $1 billion to fund pontoon construction in Grays Harbor, and floating-bridge construction and improvements on the Eastside, which already are under way. Starting tolling before the new bridge is built is keeping financing costs down.”
In Bothell, Kenmore and neighboring cities, officials are expecting a large number of drivers to opt not to pay the tolls, but take their commutes in other directions, including north to SR 522.
“We have been told repeatedly by the state that the tolling of the 520 bridge will not result in significant additional traffic diversion onto SR 522 — we will see very shortly if this is correct," said Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb. "The city of Bothell has asked for years for the 520 project to set aside funding to mitigate the impacts of tolling, and we will continue that fight in Olympia if the traffic I expect to materialize comes our way.”
"Tolling on 520 will increase traffic on SR 522, especially in the beginning as drivers adjust to the change," said Seyed Safavian, Bothell transportation engineering manager. "Bothell citizens should be prepared for delays, take transit and alternate routes whenever possible, and adjust the times they travel if they can. For those who travel across the 520 bridge, getting the Good to Go! pass will save them money."
In a March Reporter story, Kenmore Mayor David Baker said according to a recent poll, the drivers of up to 20 percent of the 120,000 vehicles that use the 520 bridge daily said they would divert from the bridge to the north — namely to 522 — when bridge tolling starts. Baker said that means up to roughly an additional 20,000 cars passing through Kenmore on weekdays. He added he was willing to admit that number might not be that high.
“We are going to get hammered and we know it,” Baker said. “I’ll bet we get at least 10,000."
At a March Greater Bothell Chamber of Commerce meeting, WSDOT Tolling Communications Manager Janet Matkin said that WSDOT will monitor the roadways when tolling begins and "see what happens," a comment that had one attendee asking if drivers will be waiting in 522 gridlock all the while. Matkin said that drivers can expect traffic to roll about 5 mph slower, according to WSDOT's study.
There's also the matter of roadwork taking place on 522 with Bothell's current Wayne Curve and upcoming Crossroads projects.
"We have discussed it with WSDOT, and that's going to be a challenge," said meeting attendee Safavian, of the traffic mixing with construction. Matkin said that "tweaking" traffic signals is one way to help traffic move smoother.
The toll system’s components have been tested and retested since summer to ensure they can collect data at highway speeds and create transactions for the more than 100,000 vehicles that cross the bridge daily. WSDOT also brought in national tolling experts to review the system, and expanded its customer-service support.
However, even though the Good To Go! call center has activated more than 120,000 new accounts since February, WSDOT Toll Division Director Craig Stone expects there will flood of requests into customer service as many drivers have yet to set up their accounts.
“We know from our Tacoma Narrows Bridge experience that we can expect long lines and wait times as customers rush to set up their Good To Go! accounts,” said Stone. “We’re taking steps to prepare for this surge to get as many people on board as soon as possible. Even so, we’re asking people to be patient.”
To prepare for the anticipated high volumes of customers registering and activating accounts this month, WSDOT has extended call-center hours and hired extra customer service staff. Customers can purchase the popular sticker passes at Costco, Safeway, Fred Meyer and QFC and activate them online.
Passes will not work unless they are registered on an active account. Drivers should also check their accounts for up-to-date credit card and license plate information.
For information, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/goodtogo