Monthly Archives: December 2011

Tolling on 520 bridge primes question pump

The in basket: All the publicity about the new tolls on the 520 bridge in Seattle, to be done exclusively with cameras reading license plates and transponders, has generated a number of questions in the arena of tolling.

I can recall who asked only one of them.  Ronda Armstrong of Central Kitsap wonders if the advent of photo tolling on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge will mean the toll booths are to be closed. She suggested, joking, I think, that they would make excellent espresso stands.

I got two questions at a party at Chris and Gail Whitley’s house in Chico but I can’t remember who asked. One wondered how rental car agencies will deal with the new tolling system and another wondered if the tolls will be collected in both directions on the 520 bridge, contrary to the one-way collection at the Tacoma Narrows.

 

Lastly, I admitted to having lost track of the debate over whether tolls should also be collected on the I-90 bridge so drivers couldn’t duck the 520 tolls by rerouting to I-90

I asked the state Good to Go! office those questions.

The out basket: Annie Johnson of that office provided the following answers.

“No decision about the fate of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll booths has been made, so they will remain in operation for the foreseeable future.

“The 2011 transportation budget directed WSDOT to consider transitioning to all-electronic tolling on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and discontinuing the cash payment option. It should be noted that any decisions regarding the removal of the toll booths will be made by the Legislature and not WSDOT.

“The key finding from the report we sent to the Legislature in February 2011 was that we need to reexamine this once we’ve have a year’s worth of data from photo tolling. Since photo tolling just went into effect, we won’t have a year’s worth of data until January 2013.”

Tolls will be collected in both directions on the 520 bridge, she said, adding, “The toll rates vary depending on the time of day, and the current toll rate is displayed on an electronic sign on the high-rise.

“Each rental car agency handles tolls differently so it’s important to check your rental agency’s policy on how they bill for tolls,” Annie said. “With the introduction of photo tolling, visitors can now set up a Short Term Account which saves you 50 cents each trip off the Pay By Mail toll rate.

“To open a temporary account, you need your license plate and a credit or debit card. You can call or go online to set up a Short Term Account. Short Term Accounts automatically close after 14 days.’

Lastly, she said, no tolls will be imposed on the I-90- bridge for now.  “The state Legislature considered options for tolling both (Seattle) bridges. (It) only authorized tolling of the SR 520 Bridge, with the intent to monitor how (that) affects traffic on other corridors, and if sufficient funds are being collected to pay for costs associated with building the 520 replacement bridge.

“Legislative authorization is required to toll any new corridors, including I-90, and tolling I-90 would also have to be coordinated with the Federal Highway Administration.”

 

 

 

 

Lost and stolen drivers licenses and ID theft

The in basket: Jerry Darnall of Kingston writes to say he ran into a problem when he tried to renew his driver’s license online and the new one never reached him.

He paid by credit card and was told the new license would arrive by mail in about two weeks, he said. “(It) never showed.”

The Department of Licensing said it was mailed and suggested he check with the post office.

“Lame suggestion since the post office cannot trace mail unless certified\registered, which the Department of Licensing does NOT offer, even for an extra fee,” Jerry wrote.

So he asked about canceling his drivers license number and getting a new one but was told DOL won’t do that.

“(It) seems the ‘system,’ while not actually supporting ID theft, doesn’t do anything to prevent it either,” he said. “Now for the next four years, I will need to worry about someone with a copy of my valid driver license.”

Jerry said DOL should offer, for a nominal fee, to send mailed licenses by registered\certified mail, “which would require a signature at the post office for those of us that get rural mail delivery.”

Further, he said, “there has to be a way to ‘invalidate’ a drivers license. Washington makes up the drivers license numbers from the person’s name with alphanumeric characters at the end. The system should allow for a ‘re-numbering’ of those characters and the original lost or stolen license to be invalidated.”

The out basket: Brad Benfield of the state Department of Licensing replies, “Many people in our state are rightfully concerned about identity theft and fraud.

“However, what we have learned is that a lost or stolen driver license by itself is not a document that is particularly valuable for someone wanting to commit ID fraud. Criminals engaged in that type of activity typically are after Social Security numbers, which are the required element to secure credit, or actual credit card numbers themselves. Lost or stolen driver licenses and ID cards are not typically used as a source document for identity theft.

“Because a lost or stolen driver license already has a photo on it that doesn’t match the person who finds or steals it, its value is very limited,” Brad said.

“Over the past 11 years, we’ve really made a lot of changes to the document itself that makes it very secure and difficult to modify. In fraud cases where a driver license is part of the fraud, we typically see either a counterfeit license being used or a license issued by us based on fraudulent documents provided by the criminal.

“A person’s driver license number isn’t random. The entire number is created using a mathematical formula. We don’t publicize the formula, but it’s not exactly a secret. If you are curious, you can find it here:  http://www.highprogrammer.com/alan/numbers/dl_us_wa.html

“We do have policies that prevent individuals from changing their drivers license number whenever they want,” he continued. “This number is the key link to a person’s driving record in our database and, by extension, other driver-related systems at the federal level.

“If drivers were allowed to change their driver license numbers at will, it could create problems for federal commercial driver safety programs and make it easier for people to move from state to state and obtain driver licenses they may not be entitled to get, due to a suspension based on their driving record here in our state.

“In those rare cases where driver license fraud involves the use of another person’s driver license number, we will work with the victim to straighten out their record and take the steps necessary to stop the fraud. This may include issuing a new driver license number.

“Your reader’s suggestion to offer an option to have documents sent via certified mail for an additional fee would have to be authorized by the state Legislature.”

 

Extend Barney White Road? Not any time soon

The in basket: Back in July, Sally Harris of Belfair wrote, “Just wondering if there are any plans to eventually connect the Barney White Road on Highway 3 down to the Barney White Road on the Old Belfair Highway.
“It would save a lot of driving back and around when there is an accident on either one,” she said.

The out basket: I can’t find a Barney White Road spur off Old Belfair Highway, aka West Belfair Valley Road, on my map. But whether it’s there or not, the prospects for extending the segment that intersects Highway 3 are equally grim.

The same goes for a similar proposal made a few years ago to link Silverdale Way with Central Valley Road along a private right of way called Lone Maple just north of Island Lake. As I recall, fire officials find that one desirable to shorten response times.

There has been no discussion among county or city of Bremerton officials (a lot of the Barney White area is part of the city) about either extension, their officials tell me, and money for any kind of new road construction is in very short supply. An infusion of federal money, such as helped get Greaves Way built north of Silverdale, would likely be needed.

Not seeing ‘red’ on highways signs

The in basket: Susan Miles wrote on Dec. 14 to say, “It’s definitely time to replace the faded  ‘Do Not Enter’ sign at the Waaga Way exit onto Silverdale Way.  All of the red warning coloring is completely gone.  My husband has actually seen someone go the wrong way on this exit.

“How can a traffic sign fade?” she asked.

“I have seen several faded signs, and to me it seems dangerous and unacceptable.  I have seen people drive right through an intersection without stopping because the stop sign was faded.

“Who can be held accountable if these faded signs contribute to a serious accident?” she asked.

The out basket: When I encountered Susan at a party just three days later, she said the sign had already been replaced. I had notified Duke Stryker, head of highway maintenance here, of Susan’s e-mail and he had responded quickly.

Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the Olympia region of state highways, thanked Susan for bringing the problem to their attention.

“In terms of the fading question, signs and most other colored things are continually fading, which is brought on by a host of factors, but primarily sunlight. And by far, of the colors we use for highways signs, red fades the most rapidly.

“I am no scientist,” he said, “but my understanding is that fading is due to oxidation caused by sunlight. Apparently the color red is affected by this process more than most other colors.”

He didn’t address the liability issue, but I am sure the answer lies in whether anyone makes a connection between an accident and a faded sign and the legal acumen of the parties involved.

Covered ‘Detour’ signs on Walker Road and others

The in basket: Kathleen Pulici asks in an e-mail, “What is the reason for the covered-up detour signs on NW Walker Road (in Central Kitsap near) the intersection of Old Military Road where it turns into Madison Road.

“There are also covered up detour signs on both Old Military and Madison Roads,” she said.

The out basket: As with all the orange signs put up and covered with plywood in Bremerton to prepare for the Manette Bridge construction, the CK signs are harbingers of coming roadwork, though on a smaller scale.

The work actually will be on Paulson Road at Royal Creek, where work on sewer and water mains is scheduled and will close Paulson from Jan. 9 to Feb. 3. Walker, Madison and the short stretch of Old Military will be designated detour.

Buses in HOV lanes without any passengers

The in basket: Dr. Larry Iversen of Bremerton e-mailed to say “A couple of times I have noticed buses with ‘out of service’ signs using the I-5 HOV lanes, even though there is just the driver on board.

“Last Wednesday, I noticed three buses in a convoy using the I-5 HOV lane with ‘garage’ indicated on their signs, each with only a driver on board. I believe these were always Metro buses.

“What are the Department of Transportation, WSP, and Metro policies concerning buses with no passengers using HOV lanes on our highways?”

 

The out basket: Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the Bremerton State Patrol office says that use of the HOV lanes by such buses is legal and specifically provided for in the HOV law. Among those allowed to use HOV lanes, says the law, are public transportation vehicles, and (many) private transportation provider vehicles if the vehicle has the capacity to carry eight or more passengers, regardless of the number of passengers in the vehicle, and if such use does not interfere with the efficiency, reliability, and safety of public transportation operations.”

Linda Thielke, in public affairs at Metro, says their drivers use the HOV lanes on “dead-head’ runs back to the bus barn, to stay on schedule. Their buses often are on the road 20 out of every 24 hours, she said, and even if the driver has completed his or her shift, he or she must get the bus back for another driver to take over.

John Clauson, longtime Kitsap Transit official who has just been named to head the organization, said his agency doesn’t have a policy addressing this. “We leave it to the driver’s discretion, knowing that it islegal.”

Roundabouts vs. traffic signals

The in basket: Robert Balcomb of Silverdale e-mails to say, “I have wondered about the compared cost of the roundabouts at CK Junior High, at Silverdale Way and Newberry Hill, and at Manette, versus stoplights there instead.  I think stoplights would have been considerably cheaper, involving less construction time, and be less problematic.”

The out basket: Two of the three spots Robert asked about were Kitsap County projects, so I asked county public works for a comparison.

Jeff Shea, traffic engineer for the county, said, “Discussion papers I’ve reviewed talk about the costs of signal hardware being offset by the additional cost of right-of-way needed for a roundabout.

“Although cost is a major factor when making the decision on what type of intersection control to use, there are many other factors that play into the decision. Also, while construction costs may be similar, the ongoing costs of maintenance and electricity for signals are also a consideration when making the choice between signals and roundabouts.

“Each intersection has unique characteristics, and both signals and roundabouts have pros and cons, depending on the application.

“Collision rates are generally lower in a roundabout than at signalized intersection, and the severities of the collisions are usually minor. Fewer vehicles are required to come to a complete stop in a roundabout, and because of slower speeds they provide some traffic calming benefits. Reduced speed through the intersection allows for safer pedestrian crossing in most instances.

“They do take up a lot of space, and present some challenges to bicyclists. In some instances they restrict access to adjacent properties and some multi-lane roundabouts have a learning curve (for drivers) before they achieve optimum efficiency.

“Traffic signals take less space and can generally be built within existing rights-of-way unless additional lanes are constructed. In many applications, signals can be programmed to allow continuous progression of traffic flow. They can be programmed to facilitate the majority of traffic flow and usually have minimal affect to access property adjacent to the intersection.

“Signals require regular maintenance and are more expensive to maintain. Signals are susceptible to power surges and outages and create a challenge for motorists when they are not working properly.

“In the end, it comes down to what works best for the particular intersection that is improved. Traffic signals are well understood and good choices for certain locations. Roundabouts are gaining in acceptance, and are being used at many intersections traditionally served by traffic signals. In each improvement project we consider the alternatives and choose the one that our studies conclude are likely to be the most effective.”

 

Rough paving job on Stottlemeyer explained

The in basket: Betty Ann Sallis e-mails to say, “Late this fall, Stottlemeyer Road was excavated in numerous areas between Lincoln and Gunderson. It was subsequently patched.

“The road is now very uneven with big areas of patching in each lane on both sides. These patches are very uneven and make driving difficult and bumpy.

“The road was actually in pretty good shape before with the exception of a few potholes,” she said. “It now needs a total topcoat but this was only done in two areas – one being the section where it tees at Lincoln.

“Why did they do this? Is there a plan to topcoat the entire road?”

The in basket: Yes, there is, says Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works. What one sees there now “was a pre-level for paving,” he said. “We had planned to pave the road in October, but were unable to get asphalt from our supplier. We were able to get a couple of loads in November that allowed us to pave the tapers off each end. It is planned for one of our first projects during the paving season next year.”

Toll-paying troubles illustrate changes at Narrows Bridge

The in basket: Lance Kanski had some trouble paying his toll to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge this fall and sought help from Road Warrior readers on the Road Warrior blog at kitsapsun.com.

“I received two infractions for the same reason,” he said, “one for my truck , one for my motorcycle. Both have transponders. I stopped at the toll booth with my motorcycle to make sure the transponder worked, and it did not. It was the first time I had tried to use that transponder.

“The booth dude told me. don’t worry, it will read your plate and debit your account. What is the outcome on the infractions? Do I have to pay the $52 fines? Anyone?”
The out basket: Janet Matkin, the voice of the Good to Go! toll office since its inception in 2006, fielded this question on her last day on the job before joining the state Association of Cities. She said, “If the license plate number is on the account, then the vehicle can be identified by the license plate and their Good To Go! account will be charged the toll. With the start of photo tolling on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on December 3, the vehicle would be charged the Pay By Plate rate, which is 25 cents more than the transponder rate ($3 for a two-axle vehicle).

However, if you have a transponder and it isn’t reading properly, you should stop by the customer service center and have it replaced,” she said. “Then you’ll be charged the $2.75 rate.

“Also, there are no more $52 fines,” Janet said,” if you bypass the toll booths. Instead, if you don’t have a Good To Go! account and don’t stop at the toll booths, the registered owner of the vehicle will be mailed a toll bill for $5.50.”

Annie Johnson of the Good to Go! office stepped in after Janet had left and I asked whether Lance would have to pay his two $52 fines from before the recent changes.

 

“Our records show that the (tickets)  were issued because neither license plate number was on the Good To Go!  account ,” Annie said, “and thus we couldn’t associate the license plate numbers with an account.

“Mr. Kanski should receive dismissal letters in the mail once the tickets are dismissed (meaning he won’t have to pay the two $52 fines). The Good To Go! toll rate of $2.75 was posted to his account for each of the two toll transactions.”

 

“(This) case is a good reminder to folks to keep their account information (including license plates) up to date,” Annie said. “If the license plates had been listed on his account, we could have matched it up that way and he wouldn’t have received any (infractions).

“As Janet noted, as of December 3 we no longer issue (notices of infraction). If this situation were to occur now, we would issue a photo tolling bill instead of the fine.”

 

Do speed patrol’s trigger Pinecrest school zone lights?

The in basket: Don Cocks of Bremerton wrote on Nov. 2 to say he had driven by Pinecrest Elementary School on Pine Road “between 11:15 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. every Monday through Thursday for the past several
years.

“I noticed the school zone lights are flashing at this time whenever the sheriff is doing speed enforcement with either an unmarked car or by motorcycle,” he said. “The lights are not flashing when there is no speed trap set up.
“For the past week,” he said then, “the lights have been not flashing and there has been no
speed trap (school has been in session). I know this is a money maker for
the county as they usually have a car pulled over whenever I drive by and
the lights are flashing (the car is always going northbound, down the  hill).”
Don asked “Is the Sheriff’s Department allowed to turn on the school
zone lights whenever they want to do speed enforcement or are they only
supposed to be turned on at set times determined by the school?”

Even before Don wrote, I had wondered about those flashing lights. I regularly passed by that school one day a week between 3 and 4 p.m., when I would expect the lights to be on, but they never were. I asked Don’s question of Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s office.

The out basket: Scott replied, “KCSO does not control the flashing school zone lights at Pinecrest Elementary School or at any other school in the county.

“Flashing school zone lights are controlled by Kitsap County Public Works.  The school districts coordinate with Public Works to set the times on the school zone flashing light systems for each school.  These flashing light on/off times can be adjusted to suit school district requirements.

“Federal and state requirements dictate that law enforcement agencies conduct school speed zone enforcement patrols. The sheriff’s office complies with these requirements as resources are available, but also because it’s the right thing to do.

“We don’t have enough traffic enforcement deputies to patrol all schools in the county.  Traffic deputies conduct speed zone enforcement around schools that have a significant number of students who walk to school and/or those schools that are located on county roads with a high volume of vehicular traffic.

“Pinecrest Elementary School happens to be one of those locations,” Scott said.

I tried to see if Pinecrest officials had anything to add about when they want the lights to be blinking, but I didn’t get a call back before they closed for the holiday break.