Yep, 22 days from now. Really.

Big win for the 255, 271, 542, and 545, loss for the 550 and 554.

How to get ready:

  • Get your pass, install and activate it before tolling starts
  • Make sure all account information is up to date, including credit card or bank information
  • Make sure license plate(s) are correctly listed on your account

Where to get a pass and open an account:

To prepare for the anticipated high volumes of customers registering and activating accounts this month, WSDOT has extended call center hours and hired extra customer service staff. Customers can purchase the popular sticker passes at Costco, Safeway, Fred Meyer and QFC and activate them online.

61 Replies to “SR520 Tolling to Begin December 29th”

  1. Why do you say loss for the 550 and 554?

    Is it just because you expect to see more traffic on i90, and so more delays on i90 bus routes?

      1. Any chance ridership will go up on 520 routes? Also, any improvements possible for 2-direction HOV lanes on I-90? Seems like faster transit would make fewer cars necessary.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Route with strong reverse commutes will be hurt the most because there are not HOV lanes in the reverse peak direction over I-90. Peak direction buses will be somewhat more protected from increased congestion.

      3. Mark, there is a strong chance ridership will increase on 520 routes.

        I do wish that the R8A project was completed before they started tolling. But the reverse peak commute is already so lousy. Depending on how volumes change on I-90, I would gladly boot the Mercer Island SOV exemption.

      4. Hi Martin. I enjoy this blog and your comments. I think the 550 and 554 will be just fine.

        I do not see the drastic changes in traffic that you predict. I remember the tolling on 520 from the 60s. I think you are over-estimating the change in traffic patterns. The toll is basically the price of a gallon of gas. Just as it was years ago.

        We will soon find out.

      5. Rod, as a 554 and carpool commuter, I hope you’re right.

        I fear people are irrational enough about tolling to spend $4 in gas and lots of their time to avoid a $4 toll.

    1. The article in the Seattle Times mentions that the impact is expected to be a 20 mph increase on 520 and a 5-10 mph decrease on I-90. Anyone have a quick link to average speeds and traffic volumes?

      1. That or someone/some contract has a costly review goal/requirement that the system be implemented in 2011…

  2. Costco, Safeway, Fred Meyer, and QFC should sell ORCA cards while they’re at it. And use some big bright display to make people AWARE they do so.

    From ORCA website:
    “First-time purchase of an ORCA card cannot be made at Retailers.”
    And fix that too.

    1. Hopefully not very long. I-90 really should be tolled — both at the bridge and on the eastside of the pass to pay for those improvements.

      And the state should also put early tolls on both the viaduct and on the CRC.

      1. ALL the mountain passes and trans-Columbian bridges should be tolled – we need the money for infrastructure repairs and improvements.

      1. Ah, yes, he could ride the 511! But Alderwood Mall is kind of a hike from Lynnwood TC, he’d have to transfer to the 535. And once he’s on the 535, it’s only, what, 10 short miles more to BELLEVUE SQUARE! Mua-ha-ha-ha-ha!

      2. And as a resident of downtown Bellevue who actually walks downtown (we’re not that rare!), I also consider it a good thing. There’s little more depressing than the line of stopped cars slowly headed to the mall between October and January. I’d prefer if more of you Westsiders shopped at Alderwood!

  3. Actually, don’t buy the “popular $5 sticker pass” if there is ever a chance you’ll be driving on SR-167 with a passenger and wish to use the HOV lane without being charged for the privilege. It’s incompatible with this, and the only option appears to be destructively cleaning it off the windshield and buying a more expensive pass.

    1. Can’t you make your own shield using aluminum foil and tape? I accidentally got charged as an HOV in the SR 167 HOT lanes but whatever, I rarely drive that so I didn’t mind giving 2 more bucks to the state.

      WSDOT also sells a shield that is for the old tags but also works with the new ones.

      1. I would think that only works for the removable type, unless you’re talking about taping the foil to the outside of your windshield – not exactly convenient at highway speeds.

      2. No, the removable type comes with a shielded bag. The pass shield is mounted on the inside of the windshield using Velcro. It has enough metal content to disrupt the RF trying to read the pass.

      3. If you have the kind of pass that sticks on with velcro you can remove it and put it in a bag, shield it, etc. However, the cheaper $5 sticker pass is permanently affixed to the inside of the windshield and can’t be removed without destroying it.

        If I had known / thought about this when buying the pass, it would have been a no-brainer to pay slightly more for the velcro one – hence the warning. I don’t know why they need to offer quite so many different types of pass anyway.

    2. Or, buy the $5 version, and stick it on a piece of lexan and stick that in your window, then you can use it in multiple cars too!

      1. If going cheap keep in mind I was told the life expectancy of the sticker designed for motorcycles is only a year and that it goes on the outside since it’s design to go on the headlight. Of course if your license plate is registered you will get charged the same rate via photo identification. I don’t know if they’ll let you register multiple cars (or any car for that matter) with the motorcycle sticker. I still think it’s a rip off to charge motorcycles the same rate as cars. If they change the rate and you’re using one on a car you’ll be SOL.

    3. Yeah get the switchable pass. I-405 HOT lanes should be coming online in less than two years.

      1. I’m firmly in the camp that all HOV lanes should become toll lanes. You don’t need a discounted rate for HOV; there’s an automatic incentive for carpooling, just so you can split the toll with everyone in the car.

        This instantly solves all those b.s. arguments about whether or not kids or non-drivers or anyone else should count. Charge a fare per vehicle, and you’ll encourage denser vehicles.

  4. Hooray! And here’s to more congestion tolling. It is the ONLY effective way to reduce congestion and change traffic patterns.

    1. Taxing pollution at the level of its externalities would also reduce congestion. And change behavior patterns in more useful ways than just spreading vehicle miles more smoothly around the region.

  5. I use a piece of aluminum on the HOT lanes when I have a passenger and it doesn’t charge me. Tried it out as an experiment one day since I placed the new tiny sticker above my mirror so it’s out of site. The old plate that was used with the bigger transponders won’t fit that location so this was the next best thing and best of all, free! =D

    1. I’m confused. Is the sticker on the mirror or on the windshield? If it’s the latter, how do you cover it in aluminium?

  6. WSDOT doesn’t emphasize that you don’t need a pass to get a better toll rate – there’s also a “Pay by Plate” option. If you create an account and register your vehicles at you pay only $0.25 more per trip than if you had a pass.

    1. That’s a good thing to know about, since I’m probably going to be driving 520 quite infrequently. At my previous rate, it would take years before I’d get the 32 trips to pay for a movable tag. And I’m going to be changing my driving patterns as well, so it’d take even longer.

  7. I’m all for congestion pricing to reduce demand on our transportation infrastructure, but tolling is a very inefficient way to collect a tax. From the DBT studies, and what I can find on SR520 only about half the revenue actually gets returned to the state. The rest gets sucked up by the collection agency and all the hardware and maintenance folks to keep it running. Then there’s the acceptable 10% loss for no-payers WSDOT has planned for.
    What’s the cost of collecting property tax, sales tax, gas tax, MVET, Rental car/motel tax, or other fees? Much lower I would guess.
    What revenue is returned to the state will largely go back to Corporate America to service the debt.
    OK 99%’ers. Buy those stickers and give them access to your bank account. A match made in heaven.

    1. The difference is that many of those other taxes discourage things we want more of, like earning money (income tax), spending money (sales tax), tourism (rental car/motel), developing property (property tax on improved value). In contrast, tolls discourage things we want less of (using scarce roadways at busy times).

      I don’t disagree with you that overhead sucks. But because this tax provides the right incentives, this tax avoids the broken-window problem of implementing something like the sales tax. The money spent on implementing tolls actually brings about a positive effect for society — keeping the roadways flowing at peak times. In a way, it would be worth it to spend that money even if the state saw nothing. The fact that we still get a good portion of the revenue is icing on the cake.

      1. Wouldn’t a pricing scheme like utility bills have the same positive effect. For electric, water, sewer and other services that have limited capacity you pay a flat charge to cover basics for the sunk cost to provide the service, and on top of that a demand charge for the amount you use.
        For the car it could be a flat rate per vehicle at renewal time, plus a mileage fee adjusted to cost more for zip codes that require higher operating costs. Eventually, some random sampling of licence plates along critically congested screen lines could be an additional surcharge, based on time of day and history over a year or more of spot data.
        There you have everyone paying a fair share, and heavy users during the peak paying even more to discourage usage. That seems like it would accomplish the goal, and do it in a way where you didn’t have to collect a lot more than needed to cover the overhead of counting every vehicle, every day.
        Just my two cents worth.

      2. MIke — what you’re saying is basically a VMT. I agree that would be fantastic. :)

        barman — in general, standard economic theory predicts that a tax on a type of activity means that less of that activity happens. For the specific case of income, I personally think that the elasticity is very low — the people who choose not to work because of taxes are either very rich, or economists. ;) In fact, for some people, taxes might actually encourage them to work more; if you need a certain amount of money to pay your bills, for example, then lowering your tax burden would allow you to work less.

        Still, my point is that this is very different from something like a congestion tax, where the type of activity being taxed is something we *want* to discourage.

    2. Some back of the envelope math: WSDOT expects tolls to generate 1 billion to help pay for the 4.5 billion bridge (KOMO TV today)
      100,000 vehicles a day x 365 days x 30 years (bonds) x $2.00 average toll is 2.19 billion.

      1. Thanks Andrew, I love the term ‘leakage’ for all the tolls that will go uncollected. I sounds so … civilized.
        I’ll take the 57% return as close enough to half, and if they really do get to 72% then I need another envelope.

      2. The difference isn’t due to the toll collection overhead, it’s due to the fact the buying $1B in bond revenues costs over $2B to repay – interest charges paid to finance agencies make the project twice as expensive overall. The same is true for big rail projects.

      3. I agree with you Rob, but the debt repayment calc is a separate issue. Almost half the tolls go bye-bye. What’s left goes to pay for the bridge, which is funded by ??, yes, all that dough laying around in Olympia looking for something to do plus a little 45 year ‘bridge loan’ (I made a funny).
        Silly me.

  8. This is awesome. I hope the congestion relief encourages more tolling but somehow I doubt it.

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