SEATTLE -- The Washington Transportation Department has reached a settlement with the company that was late in setting up tolling on the Highway 520 floating bridge on Lake Washington, and it now has confidence in its partner as tolling expands in the state, said Craig Stone, Toll Division director.
"We clearly had challenges during 2011 and the transition," Stone said. "Fundamentally we think we have a solid system for the future."
The agreement announced Wednesday settles claims and counterclaims with the ETC Corp. of Richardson, Texas, and avoids possible litigation over the delay as well as problems in processing tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
The settlement is worth $6.4 million to the state -- $2.4 million in reduced monthly payments to ETC and $4 million for a software license that would allow the state to operate the tolling system on its own, the department said.
ETC pays no cash and gets a four-year contract extension worth $29 million, the company said. ETC's original five-year contract with the state in 2009 was worth $23 million.
Tolling began in late December on the floating bridge instead of the spring of 2011 as planned because of delays implementing the technology that handles tolling automatically through Good to Go transponders or license photos. ETC said the state was partly responsible for the delays in Highway 520 tolling due to changes in the scope of the work.
The tolling is expected to raise $1 billion of the $4.65 billion cost of replacing the 49-year-old bridge and other improvements on 13 miles of Highway 520 between Seattle and Redmond. The span is one of the longest floating bridges in the world at over a mile.
The settlement covers the bridge tolling delay and lost revenue from dismissed or unprocessed toll infractions on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the department said. In 2011, ETC took over tolling operations on the Highway 16 bridge at Tacoma as well as Highway 167 HOT express lanes so that drivers could use the same Good To Go transponder technology.
The software part of the settlement is important in giving the state the ability to operate or modify the tolling technology itself or with a contractor other than ETC, Stone said.
Tolling is just ahead for more highways in Washington. It's already planned for the tunnel under downtown Seattle that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct and for a new Columbia River Crossing bridge across the Columbia River between Vancouver and Portland, Stone said. It's also likely on Interstate 405 express lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood.
Tolling also may be studied on other highways, including the Interstate 90 floating bridge on Lake Washington where much of the 520 traffic diverted to avoid the toll.
About 100,000 drivers a day used the Highway 520 floating bridge before tolling. That dropped significantly after tolling started. It's back up to about 60,000 a day, but it would likely take years to get back to the pre-toll volume, Stone said.
ETC says the settlement also allows it to look forward and focus providing tolling systems and customer service in Washington. The company collects nearly one-third of the toll transactions in the United States, representing more than $1 billion a year in revenue.