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Cameras, pay-by-mail option alter Narrows toll collections

With the new pay-by-mail option, officials predict there may be no need for toll booths on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. - Courtesy Photo
With the new pay-by-mail option, officials predict there may be no need for toll booths on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Tacoma Narrows Bridge commuters who inadvertently cross the span with money left on their Good to Go account will no longer be sent a citation. Moreover, drivers will soon have the option of eschewing an electronic transponder altogether.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, when “photo tolling” begins in January, cameras mounted on the bridge take photos of license plates and bills will be mailed to owners who don’t pay or have an automatic transponder accounts.

The bill is expected to be about $4, compared to the $52 ticket violators now receive.

The change — discussed at Wednesday night’s meeting in Gig Harbor of the Narrows Bridge Advisory Committee — is the result of a bill passed this year by the state Legislature.

In addition to simplifying the tolling process, it could also prove to be a revenue generator.

“Before, when people didn’t pay the toll, it was handled by the Pierce County court system,” 26th District State Sen. Derek Kilmer explained last spring when the measure was introduced. “It was a real cash cow for them, and they were reluctant to give it up. But now the system will be handled by the Department of Transportation, and any money it makes can be used for bridge operations.”

Once drivers get used to the idea, it’s possible the existing toll booths will be removed.

WSDOT is currently researching whether it would be more cost-effective to operate without toll booths and is expected to report to the Legislature on the question by January.

Drivers exercising the pay-by-mail option will be given 80 days to send a check. Those who don’t will be charged $40 — in addition to the original toll amount and fees.

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