Q & A about SR-520 Tolling

Dear Editor,

Your article on the pending tolls for SR520 left out a few details so I asked the WSDOT contact for answers… here are the questions and her answers… she even did some research before getting back to me so anyone else should feel free to ask her questions. The really important thing about this toll, it’s “a new revenue stream” for the transportation department, a new tax if you will. If we don’t make it clear that this new tax should be limited to the one project, but we just keep paying it like another bill then that is what it will be. But make no mistake, the commuters on the 520 bridge are paying a tax that no one else is paying, and they are paying for a broken promise.

 

The answers were copied from the email I received… my questions are modified a little.

 

Margaret Wiggins

Finn Hill Resident and Water/Sewer Commissioner

 

Q: How much will the toll be? Expect the commuters to pay the heaviest tolls, but she really didn’t want to answer this question, just the good news about the free time.

 

A: Tolls on the SR 520 Bridge will vary by time of day, for a complete list of toll rates visit our website. Travel will be free across the bridge from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. nightly. Tolls will be charged in both directions.

 

Q: What if you did NOT buy a prepaid thingy? Is there a toll booth for those of us who forget about the toll because we NEVER cross the bridge? License plate cameras, the owner of the car will be billed. Maybe, like the red light tickets, it will include a picture of the driver. (Someone should ask.) She left out the part where a “regular” Good to Go! account takes $30 up front, and recharges your credit card kept on file when it gets down to $8.

 

A: A Short Term Account is designed for visitors or infrequent drivers who will use the SR 520 Bridge, but do not want to set up and fund a permanent account. A Short Term Account is valid for up to 14 days and then it automatically closes.

 

Drivers have up to 72 hours after they travel the SR 520 Bridge to set up this type of account by calling customer service at 1-866-936-8246. Short Term Account toll rates are $0.50 less than Pay By Mail toll rates.

 

Drivers who do not have any type of Good To Go! account and choose not to set up a Short Term Account after crossing the bridge can wait to receive a Pay By Mail toll bill in the mail.

 

Q: Has WSDOT already set a date to toll the other bridge on I-90? The ship canal bridge on I-5? And her answer was honest but evasive… the tolls on SR520 may well be a test case.

 

A: Legislative authorization is required to toll any new corridors, including I-90 and I-5. Currently there is no Legislative authorization to do either of these.

 

Q: How long to accumulate the $1 billion towards the bridge price of $4 billion? What if there are cost overruns? What if the “state” decides that the toll needs to stay there until the full amount is paid? (And she really went out of her way to not answer this but make it sound like she did.) Anyone who wants to read the whole answer can ask her, and it never mentions an estimated time table.

 

A: We utilize four key practices to manage the potential of cost overruns.

 

First, the Washington State Legislature capped the budget for the SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program at $4.65 billion, of which $2.43 billion has been authorized and funded. We are therefore legislatively mandated to keep all SR 520 program expenditures, including environmental review, design, real property acquisitions, and construction within that budget.

 

Q: I made a comment that a bridge that only lasts 30 years, and requires billions of dollars to replace, is NOT a good bridge design. The answer doesn’t say if the contract includes ongoing maintenance by the company.

 

A: We are using the design-build contracting method. Design-build contracting requires proposers to submit fixed-price, lump sum bids for final design and construction of a project. This approach provides a greater degree of price certainty to WSDOT because the contractor is responsible for delivery of the project at an agreed-upon cost and schedule.