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520 Bridge Toll Set for December Start

Officials delay the tolling of the 520 bridge to December, eight months after the tolls originally were scheduled to start.

This story will be updated. Check Bellevue Patch for more information.

Tolling on state Route 520 across Lake Washington, which will help pay to replace the vulnerable, 50-year-old floating bridge, will start in December, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said Thursday.

“We’re confident we can start tolling SR 520 in December with a system that is reliable, accountable and able to handle more than 100,000 daily transactions,” said Dave Dye, WSDOT deputy secretary.

The tolls are set to help pay for a . Improvements include landscaped lids over portions of 520, a wider roadway, increased carpool lanes, a bicycle and pedestrian lane, and environmental upgrades. The state Legislature decided that $2.37 billion of the amount will be paid through state and federal funding and tolls. Where the rest comes from has not been determined. The entire project is slated to be finished by 2014.

Part of that plan has already begun with a $306 million construction project. Another full closure is set for this Friday through early Monday morning. The State Route 520 Eastside Transit and HOV Project will:

  • Widen SR 520 and create carpool lanes in both directions.
  • Widen the shoulders, so disabled vehicles will not block the lanes of traffic.
  • Create three landscaped lids over SR 520, two with access to new transit stops.
  • Add a bike and pedestrian lane to SR 520.
  • Create environmental improvements, including improvements to streams and noise barriers.

Dye said the department received valuable input from an expert review panel, an internal audit and from ongoing testing of the system. The feedback is being used, he said, to ensure that all components, including software and hardware, are fully operational before tolling starts.

“We appreciate the thousands of drivers who have already set up Good To Go! accounts and we thank them for their patience,” Dye said. “December will arrive quickly and we encourage others to set up an account now so they’ll be ready when tolling starts.”

SR 520 tolling originally was set to begin in the spring, but problems led to delays.

The toll will vary per hour, with a toll of $3.50 each way at peak times. The toll is also set to increase over the years.

WSDOT has been working closely with its toll operations vendor, Electronic Transaction Consultants Corp., to address a variety of issues. Other vendors involved in elements of the overall system are Telvent, Sirit and TransCore.

“It has been no secret that we’ve had challenges getting this system up and running, and the work has been more difficult than we anticipated,” Dye said. “The requirements we’ve established are rigorous because we want to be totally accountable for the tolls that are collected. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done – it just means we’re on the cutting edge of tolling technology in Washington and it has taken longer to ensure that everything is ready.”

SR 520 will be the first bridge in the state with all-electronic tolling, rather than the cash-collection tollbooths that are part of the system at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The all-electronic system, which allows tolls to be collected at highway speeds, will be able to track and handle more than 100,000 daily transactions on the SR 520 bridge. The tolls will be captured either through windshield stickers or through license-recognition photos, which automatically generate a bill that is mailed to drivers.

Dye said a delayed start date for SR 520 tolling will not affect planned toll charges, which are used to pay off 30- and 40-year bonds for construction of the new bridge. With a delayed start, bond repayments will extend out a few months at the end of the bond period. Tolling on SR 520 is expected to raise $1 billion overall toward the $4.65 billion SR 520 bridge replacement and HOV program, which builds 12.8 miles of safety and mobility improvements from Interstate 5 in Seattle to SR 202 in Redmond.

WSDOT consulted with national experts and conducted an internal audit that addressed issues, including reporting data and timeliness.

“Based on the feedback from our national experts and our internal audit team, we’re focusing on several reports critical to ensuring proper accounting and reconciliation of the state’s toll system,” said Craig Stone, WSDOT Toll Division director. “We’re also planning for several weeks of testing that will start after those reports are refined, followed by a final month of testing that will serve as a dress rehearsal.”

The final four weeks of testing will simulate day-to-day operations without actually charging tolls to customer accounts or sending bills. It will confirm that the system can successfully track and handle each of the thousands of daily transactions from the moment a vehicle crosses the SR 520 bridge until tolls are collected and reconciled.

“We’ve been heads-down focused all summer, and our efforts are paying off,” Stone said. “We’ve addressed the recent system issues, re-evaluated our priorities, focused our resources, and now we’re zeroing in on a December start date for SR 520 tolling.”

The new bridge is being built because the existing Gov. Albert D. Rosellini Bridge, which opened to traffic 48 years ago this Sunday, Aug. 28, is vulnerable to sinking during a strong windstorm. With six lanes, the new bridge will be wider than the existing four-lane bridge, and will include a new lane for buses and carpools in each direction. The goal for opening the new bridge to traffic is December 2014.

-- Information from the Washington State Department of Transportation and Bellevue Patch archives.

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