Guess who gets to test photo-tolling scheme?

Tacoma Narrows Bridge commuters have always been something of a canary in a coal mine where the Washington State Department of Transportation is concerned.

Irrelevant as individuals, we nonetheless play a vital role by serving as test subjects who make sure the shaft is safe for the really important people — in this case those who commute across the 520 Bridge and the Viaduct in Seattle.

And once again, they’re getting the coal mine while we get the shaft.

During last spring’s session, the Washington State Legislature adopted ESSB 6499, an ambitious scheme that would replace actual toll booths on the Narrows Bridge with stationary cameras programed to snap photos of every car that crosses so that their registered owners can be sent a bill by mail.

In theory, the plan would eliminate the cost of maintaining the toll booths and paying human toll-takers, while also taking the $2 million the Pierce County court system was raking in to prosecute toll violators and putting it back in the bridge account to keep tolls low.

The problem is, no one has yet quite figured out logistically how to make the plan work. But that hasn’t stopped WSDOT and the state Transportation Commission from asking the bridge’s Citizen Advisory Commission to sign off on it now and trust the bureaucrats to make sure it works later.

A planned meeting in October between the state agencies and the citizens’ panel had to be postponed because “the DOT didn’t know the answers to any of the advisory board’s questions,” 26th District Rep. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard) said last week. “And guess what? They still don’t.”

So what’s the rush? As usual, the big payoff isn’t the Narrows, where relatively few violators are projected. It’s Seattle, where tens of thousands of infractions every day could yield millions for the state transporation barons.

After, that is, Narrows commuters work the bugs out.

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