The Bizarro World of 520 Bridge Tolling

520 Bridge.jpg
Our madcap universe is rife with the inexplicable. Take the softball-sized eyeball that recently washed up on a Florida beach, or the pint-swilling grouch at the British pub who doused a wailing baby with beer because the kid was disturbing his lunch.

See Also: From Whom the 520 Bridge Tolls

Closer to home, the 520 bridge offers yet another exquisite example of the incomprehensible.

Back two years ago when state transportation officials were rubbing their little revenue-starved mitts together trying to figure how they'd ever come with the $4.65 billion needed to build a new six-lane bridge to link I-405 with I-5, some toll-happy troll (god only knows who) had the devilish foresight to insert this into Washington's Administrative Code.

"Registered vehicle owners are responsible for paying tolls and the civil penalty whether or not they received a toll bill."

Really? How ingenious -- almost as ingenious as tolling one bridge and not the other, thus turning the I-90 bridge, several miles south, into a snarling nightmare.

The inflexible rule, enacted in December 2011, goes on to state that ignorance is no excuse: "It is not a defense to a toll violation and notice of civil penalty that the person did know to pay a toll."

Lucinda Broussard, toll operations manager for the Washington Department of Transportation, recently told Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat that the state isn't even required to send out a bill at all -- that the bill is merely a courtesy notice. Hmmm. A courtesy notice.

Questing for clarity, the Daily Weekly, who religiously pays its 520 tolls during its very rare sojourns to the Eastside, spoke yesterday with Craig Stone, the personable and engaging WSDOT director of tolls.

Stone said that an impressive 96.5 percent of the motorists crossing the floating bridge -- where photo tolling commenced in January -- dutifully pay the fiddler, which includes the 81 percent who are armed with Good to Go passes.

The remaining 3.5 percent are hit with late fees, $40 civil penalties that accrue after 80 days for each unpaid $3 to $5 toll bills, or having a dickens of a time trying to get their license plates renewed.

Then, of course, there are those -- the brave-hearted, the justifiably outraged or simply serial scofflaws -- who throw themselves at the mercy of solemn-faced administrative judges, who've heard ever excuse in the book, including the most popular opine: "I never got the bill."

Stone can't quantify just how many comprise the latter category, but there are enough, like Pam Hammond, to rile the waters.

The Mukilteo woman told Westneat that she never got her bill for a May crossing, and after confirming with the state that showed that her bill had not reached her, figured it would be no problem to appeal the $40 fine.

Wrong.

"There's a back story here," explained Stone, "and that's that she had a 'temporary away' status with the post office. So the bill was mailed to her, but she wasn't picking up her mail. So, it's like not paying your American Express card; they're still going to tack on interest for a late payment if you didn't get your mail."

Yep, it's crazy all right -- just like those softball-sized eyeballs.

 
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