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Rep. Seaquist seeks meeting on Narrows bridge tolls

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 17, 2011 at 9:21 am |
March 16, 2011 10:18 pm

State Rep. Larry Seaquist wrote to state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond asking her to come to Gig Harbor to answer “executive accountability questions” raised by news that new transponders aren’t being scanned on the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

Seaquist said he has also asked for more detail on costs and savings. The incompatibility of devices could lead the state to forego about $600,000 in toll revenue this year from cars that cameras miss, WSDOT says, but the money the state saved by going to the new transponders more than makes up for the loss.

Here’s Seaquist’s e-mail:

Secretary Hammond,

As you may know, I have been a consistent supporter as Craig Stone and his staff started building a broader tolling management capability to evolve from the experience, technology and business processes developed for tolling on the New Narrows Bridge.  Senator Kilmer and I have devoted many, many hours informally to helping shape that pioneering architecture.  Speaking for myself, I believe our particular contribution has been to help WSDOT Tolling evolve business processes which learn from and accommodate practical citizen-user concern.  Working and learning together, we have contributed to keeping toll rates lower than originally projected.

With that years-long background of close collaboration, yesterday’s revelation by the press of yet another major glitch for our users is especially disappointing.  At no time during our many hours of informal meetings and public CAC meetings was it clear to me, at least, that the new transponder technology was incompatible with the reader/processing technology in use for the bridge.  And it was certainly not clear that this incompatibility would incur substantial, new, manual processing costs.  What makes this especially problematic is the fact that many, many hours of public discussion and even more hours of staff time were involved in responding to detailed citizen concerns that the operation of the new system could risk higher costs, lower collections, and increased tolls.

Compounding this is the widespread frustration – including my own – with the difficulty of responding to a surprise requirement to re-register our transponder accounts.

From my point of view, there is a serious problem of executive accountability here.  How was it possible that after so many hours of public hearings, so many public queries about exactly how the transition would unfold, and so many hours of supportive legislator involvement that this transition has gone so badly?  Who is accountable for the increased costs and the risk of toll increases?  And importantly, since the Narrow Bridge was to be our testing ground, what lessons have been learned?

I invite you and your tolling executives to come to Gig Harbor in a public meeting and answer those executive accountability questions.  I will be happy to help with the arrangements. I suggest that we involve the Transportation Commission and our excellent panel of CAC members as local hosts.

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