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.”