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When 520 bridge tolling begins, SR 522 will be road more traveled

  • Written by Don Mann
It’s been delayed once, and state legislators in Olympia are still hemming and hawing over precisely when it will begin, but tolling on the SR 520 floating bridge will start sometime soon this spring. Maybe May, maybe early June, the rumblings imply.

When it does, at least a portion of the Woodinville residents who work in Seattle will opt to commute downtown via SR 522 in order to avoid the toll. Likely, so will a portion from Kirkland.

It will be a Hobson’s choice for commuters: darned if you do, darned if you don’t, and no one appears to know how many drivers will opt for the route around Lake Washington instead of paying to drive across it.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Web site, the projected toll cost Monday through Friday between 7 a.m and 9 a.m. will be $3.50 one-way with a Good To Go! pass, and $5.00 without one. The fee is the same between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., meaning daily peak-hour commuters with the pass will be shelling out $35 per week, roughly $140 per month.

Otherwise toll rates will vary by time of day and on weekends, to encourage more driving during less-congested periods, WSDOT said.

Those rates, authorized by the Washington State Transportation Commission, will soon be considered by the state Legislature for final approval.

In an effort to maintain traffic flow on the SR 520 bridge, there will be no toll booths or any exchange of cash. In fact, drivers won’t even need to slow down. Electronic tolling equipment will be installed with high-tech overhead cameras scanning Good To Go! passes in both directions, and drivers without the pass will be scanned via license plates and billed by mail to the registered owner of the vehicle.

Good To Go! sticker passes cost $5, are non-transferable between vehicles, adhere to the windshield near the rear-view mirror and, according to the Web site, are about the size of a band-aid.

Good To Go! moveable passes cost $8, are transferable between vehicles, adhere to the windshield using Velcro backing and are about the size of a popsicle stick.

Good To Go! switchable passes cost $12, are transferable between vehicles, adhere to the windshield using Velcro backing, can be turned "off" by a sliding tab by those who also use the HOT lanes as a carpooler, and are about the size of a candy bar.

Tolling for the SR 520 bridge will help pay for the new floating bridge, already under construction and scheduled to open in 2014. The new bridge, a projected $306 million project, is designed to withstand major earthquakes and windstorms, and will include six lanes — two general purpose lanes and one carpool/transit lane in each direction. It will also be built to accommodate light rail in the future, have a pedestrian and bike path, and shoulder lanes to keep traffic flowing in the event of a vehicle breakdown.

WSDOT expects drivers to use a variety of new routes and transit alternatives as a result of tolling SR 520, resulting in more traffic on I-90 and SR 522 during rush hour, including projected traffic speed decreases of 5-10 mph on both thoroughfares.

WSDOT has added 130 bus trips to the existing 600 occurring daily across the bridge, recognizing how tolling will affect drivers with limited incomes, as well as an additional route on SR 522, also known as Bothell Way.

The traffic impact will be felt heavily in Kenmore, where commuters from Woodinville, looking to avoid the toll, will fuse with commuters from Kirkland traversing north via Juanita Drive to gain access to SR 522 at an already stressed 68th Ave NE. intersection.

"We’ve been doing monthly counts on Simonds and Juanita so we can measure a change if there is a change in the pre-tolling and post-tolling data," Kenmore City Engineer Ron Loewen said.

WSDOT has begun traffic tube counting in two Kenmore locations — at SR 522 at 61st Ave. NE, and Juanita Drive NE at NE 170th St. — as well as three others along SR 522 in Bothell, Lake Forest Park and Shoreline.

"This is a WSDOT project and we’ll certainly be interested in their data after tolling begins," Loewen added. "The observation I would make is there’s enough traffic already on 522 at capacity during peak hours. If we see a lot more volume, particularly westbound in the evening, that may slow things down significantly."

For more information, or to purchase a Good To Go! pass, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov.

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