The state lost $40 million from tolling the SR-520 bridge because the all-electronic system was nine months behind schedule, according to a state auditor’s report on Aug. 2. In addition, project delays and issues creating the new system caused public confusion.
On the other hand, the report noted that the state has collected $67 million through March 2013.
Specifically, the report said the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) faced challenges managing a complicated project that involved collaboration across the department, where roles and responsibilities were unclear, including who made decisions, who was accountable, and how the vendor was to be managed.
While the Washington State Department of Transportation has taken some steps to address the issues, the report notes the importance of resolving the challenges since the Legislature has authorized tolling on SR-99, I-405, and the I-5 Columbia River crossing.
The report also said that while WSDOT wanted a statewide system that would be easy for customers to use on multiple highways and bridges, the need to track tolls at each facility went beyond what was used by other states. A complication was that the vendor didn’t understand the accounting needs until several months into the project.
The state also was working under a tight deadline in order to avoid loosing a Federal Highway Administration grant to pay for the new tolling system.
Finally, because WSDOT’s primary goal was to have an operational system, it delayed assessing damages and did not apply all available financial penalties for poor performance by the vendor, the report says.
However, once tolls started being collected on SR-520, WSDOT reached a financial settlement with the vendor.