Bridge tolls could go up another $1

Everyone will pay a dollar more to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge come July if recommendations from the span’s Citizen Advisory Committee are implemented, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

After completing what Reema Griffith, executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission, called an “aggressive” meeting schedule, the CAC decided to recommend raising the toll prices to $2.75 for those with transponders, and to $4 for those without.

According to WSDOT spokeswoman Janet Matkin, the committee was “focused on keeping a discount for electronic toll users,” while still ensuring sufficient revenue to meet the financial obligations associated with the bridge and toll operations.

“Their ultimate target is to present the recommendations at the March 18 (and 19) meeting commission meeting,” Griffith said. Now that the committee is ahead of schedule, further meetings this week to discuss the recommendations were cancelled.

Matkin said the Commission must consider the CAC recommendations in determining the toll rates for the bridge, and will release its official toll proposal on April 7 for public review.

Following the mandatory review period of at least 30 days, there will be a public input meeting on May 20 to collect comments on the toll proposal.

Then on May 27, the commission will hold a final hearing, taking additional public comment before adopting the final toll rates for the bridge, which will be effective from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2009.

Also this month, the WSDOT reported that its new contract with TransCore, the company tasked with collecting tolls, will save “$5.6 million in toll operations fees over the next four years and more than $1 million in savings this biennium.”

According to the WSDOT, its contract negotiators “focused on identifying efficiencies in service and operations that would lead to ongoing cost savings.”

The result is an amended TNB contract with a single monthly fixed fee of $565,666 that will replace the fixed and variable fee structure currently in place – a savings of nearly $150,000 a month.

“This is yet one more step in our fine-tuning of toll operations for the state of Washington,” said Craig Stone, WSDOT Urban Corridors Administrator. “We were seeking the right balance between appropriate service levels and good stewardship of toll payers’ money.”

The new contract also reportedly reduces costs by better matching the customer service staffing to the current needs, and by eliminating the variable fees associated with each transponder account and instead institutes a flat fee not tied to account levels.

The WSDOT said that was an important factor that necessitated a new contract, since the four-fold success of the Good To Go! program led to $5 million more in variable fees than anticipated during the first six months of toll collecting.

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