Tag Archives: Narrows Bridge

Obscured license plates and tolls

The in basket: Larry Blain writes, “A few days ago I was once again behind a vehicle with a bike rack completely obscuring the rear license plate. This set me thinking.

“Whether that is legal or not (I suspect not), what is the percentage of the vehicles crossing the Narrows Bridge that the automated license reading equipment are unable to identify?  I can see this happening from hidden license plates such as I observed, paper license plates on darkly tinted windows on newly licensed vehicles, and out-of-state vehicles.

“Since the same problem also would apply to tolled HOV lanes and the SR-520 Bridge, the amount of lost revenue probably is significant.

“Is any effort made to identify vehicles with unrecognizable license plates that are repeatedly observed by the cameras?

“I hope the state DOT has some statistics on this.”

The in basket: The state’s toll division answers, “The toll equipment photographs the front and rear license plates, so if the rear one is obscured, we can still read the front one. Per state law, front plates are required for all vehicles issued a front plate.

“Our toll equipment takes photos only of the area of the vehicle around the license plate, because it is illegal to photograph the inside of vehicles.

“We have agreements with the other states that they will provide us the vehicle owner’s registered address so we can send a bill to that address.

“If the license plate recognition software is unable to automatically read the license plate, then the plates will be manually reviewed by customer service. Unreadable license plates account for only about 1.5 percent of the total trips on our toll facilities.”


Larry Blain.

Different reload thresholds for ORCA and Good-To-Go! cards

The in basket: Larry Hoback of Bremerton says, “I have two prepaid passes, Good-to-Go! and ORCA. On the ORCA card, it only reloads from my credit card when there is not enough more to pay the fare.

“In Good-to-Go!, my credit card is hit when the balance falls below $10.

“Who is keeping that $10 float and what is it for?” he asked.

The out basket: Janet Matkin of the Good-to-Go! program says the discrepancy is not by chance.

“The policy for your Good To Go! account is to auto-replenish when the balance gets down to $8 or lower,” she said. “This ensures that you’re never without money in your account.

“If we waited until the account is totally depleted, you might make a trip the next day before the account is re-charged and you would be in violation because there is no money in your account. That could result in a $52 infraction.

“By contrast, if you don’t have money on your ORCA card, the worst that could happen is that the driver won’t let you on the bus or you won’t get through the turnstile onto the ferry.

“The money in your Good To Go! account is always yours,” she said.”If you close the account, you are refunded the entire amount remaining in your account. The ‘float’ is to benefit the customer and ensure the account does not go negative.”

Part of Highway 16 is missing!!

The in basket: Pat Davison of Bremerton writes, “Being a stickler for accuracy, I recently noticed that the mileage markers on Highway 16 are WAY off!

“Leaving I-5, headed towards Bremerton, milepost 5 is just before you cross the Narrows Bridge and 3/4 of the way across the bridge, the next post is milepost 8! Therefore,  approximate difference between the actual mileage and posted mileage is off by about 2  1/4 miles all the way to Gorst!

“I know it may not seem like such a big deal to some,” said Pat, “but I just thought I’d let you know of this discrepancy.

The out basket: This was first brought to my attention in 1996, the first year the Road Warrior column appeared in The Sun. And there’s an explanation.

After Highway 16 was established, its route was changed several times on the Tacoma side. It used to follow various city streets, then Bantz Boulevard past Cheney Stadium comprised the bulk of it, and finally it was a continuous freeway from I-5. That all made it shorter, and ultimately it was 2.2 miles shorter than it used to be.

Since all the state’s accident reports and various other records rely on the milepost to identify where something occurred or was done, changing the location of all the mileposts from the bridge north would have led to mass confusion in interpreting those records. So they absorbed the missing 2.2 miles at the bridge, leaving the mileposts elsewhere where they were.

Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the Olympic Region of state highways, hasn’t been around long enough to know whether it was was done in one move or in stages, but he guesses it was a one-time change made in the 1970s.

The mileposts are shown at each even mile by a short green sign on the highway’s shoulder, though various records break locations down by decimals, such at MP48.35,  to identity a location to within a hundredth of a mile. The milepost is identical in both directions.

Who keeps the bridge toll money?

The in basket: With tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge seemingly fated to jump a dollar per crossing in about a month, Carol Johnson asks “Where’s the money from all the Good-To-Go! accounts kept? Who gets the interest generated from holding that money? And does it go into the general fund and get spent for who knows what or is it earmarked to pay down the debt for the Narrows bridge?
“Inquiring minds want to know,” she said.
The out basket: Janet Matkin of the Good to Go! staff answers that the narrows bridge tolls “are accounted for in a separate account within the state treasury that is dedicated to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. All spending is appropriated by the Legislature and allotted and monitored by the Office of Financial Management.”
Interest is accrued on toll revenue, including the prepaid Good to Go! accounts, and has been dedicated to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge account, she said. All toll revenue and interest earnings in the account will go towards paying the debt on bonds used to finance construction of the bridge and for paying ongoing operating and maintenance costs. Retirement of the bonds will allow the tolls to end, expected to happen in 2030.
The opening of tolled HOT lanes (on Highway 167 east of I-5)) earlier this month complicates the matter as far as crediting interest earnings on the prepaid accounts to the correct facility, she noted.
So the state is creating a Central Tolling Fund in which “all Good To Go! prepaid deposits will go into a central deposit fund. Then, when a customer uses one of the tolling facilities, the appropriate toll is recorded and that amount is transferred to the correct facility’s account.
“The interest from the prepaid accounts will be distributed on a percentage basis determined by the revenue levels for each fund,” she said.
Inquiring minds can learn more in RCWs 47.56.160 and 47.56.165, she added.
Randy Boss, a critic of the bridge tolls, says he has submitted a public records request for bank records to check on this answer, and says he’ll let us know what he finds when he gets them.