A 70-page study recently completed by the state concludes that such a system can and should be put into place.
"It's all about convenience for our customers," said Craig Stone, assistant secretary of the toll division at the state Department of Transportation.
Electronic toll passes under the state's "Good to Go!" program today are used by commuters on the Highway 520 floating bridge over Lake Washington, for toll lanes on Highway 167 in the Kent Valley and on the Tacoma Narrows bridges. The license plates of people who drive on these bridges or in these lanes without the sticker are photographed and they're sent a bill in the mail.
Beginning in 2015, toll lanes are planned to be available for use on I-405 between Lynnwood and Bellevue. The state is spending $334 million to convert existing carpool lanes into toll lanes. Work on paving, striping and barriers for the project has begun. That toll lane could eventually extend to Renton.
Under the Good to Go! system, drivers pay $30 to open an account with the state and place a sticker on their car that is read by radio sensors. Tolls vary depending on factors such as day of week, time of day and traffic congestion.
The Good to Go! system could be extended to south Puget Sound ferry routes as early as 2016 and to the entire system by 2018, Stone said.
It would be done first in the south Sound because that's where Good to Go! pass ownership is the highest, he said. According to Stone, 96 percent of Gig Harbor households have a Good to Go! pass for commuting across the Tacoma Narrows.
Still, it's more likely that the state will wait and upgrade the entire system in 2018, he said. That's when the ferry division's electronic toll collection system is scheduled for an upgrade, and it would save money to convert the whole system at once, Stone said.
Implementing Good to Go! on six south Sound ferry routes would cost between $4 million and $5 million, Stone estimated. If it's done in conjunction with a system changeover that cost would likely be reduced. The final decisions will be up to the Legislature, Stone said.
Electronic ferry passes, called Wave2Go, are currently available for drivers. Walk-on passengers may pay with ORCA (One Regional Card for All), the Puget Sound region's electronic payment system for trains and buses.
The tie-in between the two systems is slow and cumbersome, said Jean Baker, deputy chief for administration and finance for the ferry division.
"The system was built on a foundation of aging but inexpensive software that was designed in the 1980s for much smaller applications," she said.
Good to Go! would replace Wave2Go for drivers, while walk-on passengers could still use ORCA.
Drivers would still have to stop at a booth rather than just breezing through and letting the transponder read the sticker, officials said. Fares are based partly on vehicle length and head counts of passengers. Visual inspections also are required for security purposes, according to Stone.
It still would be quicker and easier than the current system of pulling out cash or a payment card, he said.
In addition to the new toll lanes on I-405, the state also is talking to the Port of Seattle about extending Good to Go! to parking at Sea-Tac Airport, Stone said.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the full report about extending Good to Go! passes to ferries, go to tinyurl.com/lazvss4.
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