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Decision nears on Narrows bridge photo toll

Post by Christian Hill / The News Tribune on Jan. 20, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
January 20, 2011 5:12 pm

The Washington State Transportation Commission is scheduled to set, contingent on legislative action, the photo toll for crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge next week.

Three people testified about the proposed $5.50 toll during a public input meeting at Gig Harbor City Hall on Wednesday night.

The commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed toll at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the city hall, located at 3510 Grandview St. An open house will begin an hour before the meeting so people can learn more about the proposal. The commission is scheduled to take action after the hearing.

Photo tolling would give people the option of crossing the bridge without stopping at a toll booth or equipping a transponder in their vehicle. Tolls for paying at a toll booth or using the Good To Go! transponder would not change with the introduction of photo tolling.

With photo tolling, people would have three payment options: pay the bill that arrives in the mail; open a Good to Go account without using a transponder and have the toll subtracted from the account; or pay the toll shortly before or after crossing the bridge without receiving a bill in the mail.

WSDOT projects 6 percent of people would use pay by mail, and 1.4 percent would set up a Good To Go! Account without a transponder.

Randy Boss, a longtime opponent of bridge tolls, and Jim Pasin, a member of the bridge’s citizen advisory committee who said he was speaking as a private citizen, raised concerns that WSDOT’s estimated costs to process the photo tolls and adjudicate appeals are too low. They said the miscalculation would result in a loss of revenue to the bridge and a higher toll down the road.

Meadow Wright, a legislative aid for Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, also read his letter into the record.

WSDOT staff calculated that to pay for the processing and mailing costs and to make up for unreadable license plates and undeliverable bills would run between 90 cents and $3 per transaction.

Initially staff recommended a total of $4.25 – the $2.75 Good To Go! Toll plus $1.50, representing the middle ground in terms of paying costs and making up for lost revenue.

The citizen advisory committee came back with $7 – the $4 booth toll plus $3, which represents the high-end estimate to pay costs and make up for lost revenue.

The Transportation Commission proposed $5.50 – the $4 booth toll plus $1.50.

Following voter approval of Initiative 1053 in November, the office of Attorney General Rob McKenna issued an informal opinion last month that revoked the authority of the commission to set tolls and ferry fares.

Lawmakers could approve the final toll or delegate the decision back to the transportation commission.

The transportation commission will adopt a rule setting the photo toll for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that makes its effective date contingent on legislative action. State lawmakers could set the toll over delegate the responsibility back to the commission.

Tim Eyman, I-1053’s sponsor, isn’t happy with how state lawmakers are handling the matter.

The legislation creating photo tolling also did away with the traffic infraction for crossing the bridge without paying a toll. The infraction was $52 — $40 to the courts and $12 to the bridge account.

Violations would now be handled as a civil penalty issued by WSDOT. If the bill isn’t paid 30 days after the bridge crossing, a $5 late fee is assessed. If the bill remains unpaid after 80 days, a $40 penalty is added. All the money after costs are paid would go to the bridge account.

A violator could contest the violation before an administrative judge and, if unsuccessful, to Superior Court.

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