520 bridge tolling off to quiet start


by KING 5 News


Posted on December 29, 2011 at 7:10 AM

Updated Friday, Dec 30 at 7:03 AM

SEATTLE -- It's official - the free ride on the 520 floating bridge is over.

The first day of scheduled tolling kicked off to a quiet start at 5 a.m. Thursday for one of Washington state's busiest bridges.

"We're about 56 percent of our traffic as we would have yesterday or the day before, and that's really right on with our projections," said Craig Stone with WSDOT. "Our first test will be this afternoon. We're already seeing some increase traffic on I-90."

State transportation officials have said they expect Thursday's traffic on the Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington to be much lighter than usual. Traffic is already down because of the holiday week and that's before any motorists try a toll-free route, such as the Interstate 90 bridge across the lake.

Officials said the real test will come next Tuesday, when more people return to work and the UW and school districts resume classes.

According to WSDOT, the first tolled vehicle across the 520 bridge was a Honda CRX going 76 miles per hour.

"I looked up and saw it change to a toll," Cody Johnson told KING 5 News. "I was trying to beat the toll."

"We would just advise people to drive normally," said WSDOT's Stone.

Some key questions remain. How many drivers scrambled at the last minute to get the "Good to Go" sticker that automatically bills them? And how many plan to revolt -- and drive an alternate route?

WSDOT said during the first two hours of tolling Thursday, their detectors indicated the majority of drivers had Good to Go passes.

"We've got 75 percent of the trips going across 520 already have the Good to Go pass," said Stone.

On Wednesday, 520 toll system director Patty Rubstello said only about 20 percent of regular bridge commuters had their debit sticker installed.
Toll rates are based on the time of day and range from $1.10 late at night to $3.50 at peak times, in each direction. Those rates are for drivers who have a state-issued Good to Go sticker that works like a debit card.  Those without the sticker will be billed by mail for the toll -- plus a $1.50 surcharge.

Roughly 120,000 drivers use the bridge on a normal workday. The DOT expects 40,000 drivers to seek another route.

According to a KING 5 Survey USA poll from earlier this month, 54 percent of respondents plan to avoid 520 altogether. 25 percent said they'll probably reduce their use of 520. 36 respondents wouldn't mind driving an extra 5-10 minutes to avoid the toll.

Tolling was originally slated to start this past spring, but glitches with the electronic system set up by Texas-based ETC Corporation delayed the start.

Go to our 520 Bridge tolling section to learn everything you need to know about the bridge tolls.