A new day in toll collecting Saturday

The in basket: Saturday is the day that highway tolls in our state take the next big leap forward, when congestion-pricing tolls offer single-occupant vehicles access to the HOV lanes between Renton and Auburn on Highway 167.
Between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week, a car with the same transponder that works to pay one’s toll to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge will let a driver alone in his car pay to use the HOV lanes, called HOT lanes in this case. The price will range from 50 cents to $9, depending on how badly the highway is congested. The Web site suggests the typical rush hour price will be around $5. Signs along the freeway will announce the toll at any given moment.
Shields that sell for $3.50 can be affixed to a transponder to keep it from being read in cars with more than one occupant, buses, vans, etc., which are entitled to use the lanes for free. The shields have to be removed to cross the Narrows Bridge, or when a driver is alone and wants to use the HOT lanes. They are velcroed to the inside of the windshield and somehow interrupt the connection between the transponder and overhead reader without actually being between them.
If you are a bridge user and have a transponder, don’t just ignore that e-mail you got this week from the Good to Go! toll program about the HOT lanes. Janet Matkin of that office says they’ll use a “customer-friendly manner” in dealing with drivers who get tolled because they forgot or didn’t understand the shield when they hit Highway 167, but they won’t easily reverse the toll.
Janet says about 5,000 of the shields have been bought. She didn’t know how many of those are mainly Narrows Bridge users.
There is a lot of information on a state Web site as to how it will all work, with the obligatory Frequently Asked Questions section. But, wouldn’t you know it, I had some questions that must not be frequently asked, but that I bet will enter the minds of dozens of drivers every day.
For example, I wonder how long a toll collection is good for. If a person pulls off in Kent for half an hour, will he be charged again to continue on in the HOT lanes, or will the original toll cover him when he returns to the freeway? How about if he returns to go back the other way? What if he forgot to stop at a previous interchange and goes back, then retraces his path in the original direction?
Will a HOT lane trip to go to dinner in the evening require a new toll if the car was accessed tolls on a trip to work and back earlier in the day?
The out basket: Patty Rubstello of the HOT lanes project says most of my theoretical situations will require paying the toll more than once. Certainly a new toll must be paid to change directions and go back in the HOT lane. A toll for travel in one direction will be good for the 20 minutes or so it is expected to take a HOT lane driver the length of the corridor, about a dozen miles, she said. A half-hour stop in Kent would use that up and incur a new toll to return to the HOT lanes.
Unlike on he Narrows Bridge, the driver of a transponder-equipped car will see a white light flash each time he passes beneath a reader, even if the toll is collected only once. That’s more to tell enforcement officers that the toll has been paid than to comfort the driver, Patty said.

3 thoughts on “A new day in toll collecting Saturday

  1. Sounds like a very complicated way to try to get more revenue for the state.
    Most people not from the area there will not pay attention until one day they go to the area and go through and are charged when they should not be… administrative nightmare that is being shifted to the public’s responsibility and cost of buying and making sure a shield is in place and taken off in different places — will only get more complicated as they do this to other lanes.

  2. “Depending on how badly the highway is congested.” So what criteria will they be using to figure that out. 7-8 cars in the other lanes not congestion, but over 8 is? Will someone be sitting at the cameras, moving the price up and down like the stock market as Queen Christine decides on whether it should be an elevated or tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct? Or, maybe it will start at $.50 and cycle through to $9 on a 20-minute intervals to funnel money to the Family paid leave program. Man, this could go so many ways. Christine call me.

  3. I (the Road Warrior) didn’t make this clear in the original column. Rather than congestion in the other lanes, it will be congestion in the HOT lane that governs the amount of the toll. The state wants traffic in the HOT lane to move at at least 45 mph. If it slows below that, the price will go up to make it worthwhile to fewer people to pay to use it.

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