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Start of 520 bridge tolls, Tacoma Narrows photo tolls set for December

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Aug. 25, 2011 at 10:19 am | 10 Comments »
August 25, 2011 10:19 am

It was supposed to start this spring or even before, but the next generation of tolling in Washington has a new timetable. It starts in December, state officials said today.

It’s the latest of several delays, but the Department of Transportation says it’s now confident of having the Route 520 floating bridge over Lake Washington ready to toll, which will also allow the start of photo tolling on the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

Once photo tolling is in place, cameras that recognize the licenses of drivers crossing the Narrows without paying cash or carrying a Good to Go pass will mail them a bill for the $5.50 toll, rather than a notice of a $52 fine — and the money will go to the bridge, not the courts.

Testing on 520 has provided good results, officials said.

“The system is in good shape, so that gives us a lot of confidence that we’ll be able to deploy in December,” said Craig Stone, director of the state Toll Division.

Here’s WSDOT’s news release. More to come on just what contractor Electronic Transaction Consultants will be paying for the delays.

SR 520 bridge tolling to begin in December

National experts endorse next steps to launch system

SEATTLE – Tolling on State Route 520 across Lake Washington, which will help pay to replace the vulnerable, 50-year-old floating bridge, will start in December, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said today.

“We’re confident we can start tolling SR 520 in December with a system that is reliable, accountable and able to handle more than 100,000 daily transactions,” said Dave Dye, WSDOT deputy secretary.

Dye said the department received valuable 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.

“We appreciate the thousands of drivers who have already set up Good To Go! accounts and we thank them for their patience,” Dye said. “December will arrive quickly and we encourage others to set up an account now so they’ll be ready when tolling starts.”

SR 520 tolling originally was set to begin in the spring, but problems led to delays. WSDOT has been working closely with its toll operations vendor, Electronic Transactions Consultants Corp., to address a variety of issues. Other vendors involved in elements of the overall system are Telvent, Sirit and TransCore.

“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. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done – it just means we’re on the cutting edge of tolling technology in Washington and it has taken longer to ensure that everything is ready.”

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.

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.

A preliminary report submitted this week by a panel of toll-industry experts, reconvened in June, supports WSDOT’s approach of focusing on the most important issues for tolling to start successfully, and recommends additional testing.

WSDOT’s internal audit team also released preliminary findings that emphasized the importance of several key ongoing reports to properly track traffic and revenue. After finding that some revenue-collection activities currently are reconciled through ad hoc data queries, the audit team recommended that reports be automated to meet increased demands required for SR 520 tolling.

“Based on the feedback from our national experts and our internal audit team, we’re focusing on several reports critical to ensuring proper accounting and reconciliation of the state’s toll system,” said Craig Stone, WSDOT Toll Division director. “We’re also planning for several weeks of testing that will start after those reports are refined, followed by a final month of testing that will serve as a dress rehearsal.”

The final four weeks of testing will simulate day-to-day operations without actually charging tolls to customer accounts or sending bills. It will confirm that the system can successfully track and handle each of the thousands of daily transactions from the moment a vehicle crosses the SR 520 bridge until tolls are collected and reconciled.

“We’ve been heads-down focused all summer, and our efforts are paying off,” Stone said.  “We’ve addressed the recent system issues, re-evaluated our priorities, focused our resources, and now we’re zeroing in on a December start date for SR 520 tolling.”

The new bridge is being built because the existing Gov. Albert D. Rosellini Bridge, which opened to traffic 48 years ago this coming Sunday, is vulnerable to sinking during a strong windstorm. With six lanes, the new bridge will be wider than the existing four-lane bridge, and will include a new lane for buses and carpools in each direction. The goal for opening the new bridge to traffic is December 2014.

To learn more about the Good To Go! program, visit www.GoodToGo.org.

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