January was particularly hectic for State Route 520 bridge tolls. This week Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, proposed changes that could include new tools for toll payers, and hold the state accountable for better communication when it comes to collecting tolls.
During the past four years, the Washington State Department of Transportation has collected a toll on the SR 520 bridge between Kirkland and Seattle via an electronic system called Good-to-Go. Drivers who don’t have an account with the state, including out-of-state drivers and those who don’t frequently pay tolls, are supposed to get bills sent to the mailing address associated with vehicle’s registration. The tolls go to pay part of the $4.5 billion SR 520 Bridge replacement project.
However, since the toll was implemented, drivers have complained about not getting bills and notifications from WSDOT, in addition to a cumbersome and sometimes unsuccessful appeal process run by WSDOT.
“I’ve got a whole lot of constituents that go over the 520 bridge,” Hill said during a Senate transportation committee meeting this week.
“We’ve had a number of constituents who for one reason or another don’t get notification, and they show up with a $3,000 bill and very little flexibility.”
A bipartisan group of Senators, including Eastsiders Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, and Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, have signed on to support Senate Bill 5481, which Hill presented to the transportation committee this week in response to the ongoing problem.
As if in response to the bill, news about SR 520 hit many headlines this week.
Seattle attorneys filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of people who say they did not get their bills in the mail and were not informed adequately when their Good-to-Go accounts were empty. The story of a man hit with a $18,000 520 toll bill — of which about $16,000 were in penalties — went international.
Changes to the system proposed by SB 5481 include a mobile app to help drivers monitor Good-t0-Go accounts. Additionally the bill would create a level of amnesty so toll customers would be able to pay tolls, and have civil penalties and administrative fees waived at least once. The amnesty would provide an administrative law judge with greater discretion to waive or reduce penalties in the appeals process and require WSDOT to contact people about unpaid bills by email and phone before the toll develops into a civil penalty.
“This bill is an attempt to clean some of this up, and provide DOT with the tools they need to do a better job at making the people who need to pay pay, and also making sure we’re notifying them appropriately and not having people get effectively slammed out of the blue with huge fines,” Hill said.
Patty Rubstello, deputy chief and director of Toll Operations at the WSDOT, told Senators this week that her department will work with Hill on the proposal.
“We do support the intentions of this bill, but we have concerns about the implementation schedule,” she said. “It is the intention of the department to resolve customer issues expeditiously.”