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More toll cuts possible

Commuters who embrace new technology and buy transponders for electronic payment of tolls may see their costs cut in half for a year if a new House budget proposal is approved.

Rep. Derek Kilmer, (D-Gig Harbor), a House Transportation Committee member, helped secure the one-time toll reduction in this year’s proposed transportation budget.

“This is a small victory in the larger battle for fairness,” said Kilmer. “Encouraging commuters to use transponders will ultimately reduce congestion, substantially cut the costs of toll collection on the bridge and will now get commuters a half-price discount in the first year of collection. There’s more to do, but clearly this is a win-win-win for our community.”

Discounts for drivers who use transponders — or electronic toll collection (ETC) accounts — was the most popular incentive mentioned by citizens who attended a public meeting hosted by the Washington State Department of Transportation at South Kitsap High School last October.

“What other benefit would there be to (get a transponder) if there wasn’t a discount?” said Marie Reeves, as the commuters and casual users around her expressed agreement that the convenience of having the tolls pre-paid or being able to skip the lines at the booths was not enough — they wanted lower prices.

Vonnie Gunderson said senior citizens on a fixed income would have a very difficult time keeping up with the tolls, especially when they increased from $3 to s$6, while others asked several times for frequent user discounts such as those offered by the Washington Sate Ferries.

“We’re highly motivated to find incentives that will encourage commuters to use the electronic transponders (to pay their tolls),” WSDOT spokeswoman Claudia Cornish said at the meeting, explaining that her agency hoped to have at least 50 percent of commuters using the small, credit card-like devices to attach to their windshields, allowing them to breeze by the back-ups waiting at the booths.

Additionally, according to a press release from Kilmer’s office, transportation analysts estimate that average transaction costs when a transponder is used are one-third of the cost of collecting a toll at a toll booth, thus lowering the long term operational costs of the project. 

The discount, as proposed in the budget, would be an effort to encourage commuters to use the more efficient transponder system and provide relief to toll payers. 

“If we can encourage frequent commuters to use this automated system we can help people see real savings in the short-term and can save millions over the long-term operations of the bridge,” said Kilmer, who attended the public meeting at SKHS last year. “This fight for toll relief is far from over, but if this one time discount is a success it may be part of the larger solution.”

The proposal was expected to face full consideration before the House this week.

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