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Tolls on 520 to begin in December

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 as testing of the equipment continues. However, starting approximately a month before tolling begins, WSDOT will conduct test runs to give the equipment a “dress rehearsal,” WSDOT spokeswoman Patty Michaud said.

Tolling on the bridge was set to begin this spring.

“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,” said WSDOT Deputy Secretary David Dye. “The requirements we’ve established are rigorous because we want to be totally accountable for the tolls that are collected.”

A report sent to WSDOT earlier this month said that while the start date of April was too ambitious, delays that extended beyond June had more to do with the toll collecting company, Electronic Transactions Consultants. Michaud said the contract with ETC was to pay penalties of $300,000 for every week of delay after July 9. That figure is under negotiation.

Though WSDOT has had issues with ETC, an expert panel that advised the state 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 the system planned for SR-520 has never been implemented before. While none of the features are new, 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, which allows tolls to be collected at highway speeds. The system is expected 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 the 30- and 40-year bonds for construction of the new bridge. With a delayed start, bond repayments will extend to 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 includes 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.

 

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