Old bridge toll bills will be in the mail soon

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TACOMA — Problems going back nearly a year have set back the processing of Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls that should have been sent in the mail to thousands of drivers, state transportation officials announced Thursday.

Out-of-state residents and in-state drivers with some specialty license plates who used the bridge should see bills arrive in the next few weeks as the state's tolling contractor works through the last of the backlog, the Washington State Department of Transportation said.

The state said about 100,000 transactions for the Narrows Bridge got clogged in the electronic tolling system. The transactions go back to when the state began offering pay-by-mail tolls in December. Another 250,000 transactions on the state Route 520 floating bridge in Seattle also were affected.

The latest problems are reminiscent of delays in the mailing of toll infractions throughout 2011 after Electronic Transaction Consultants Corp. took over tolling operations statewide.

State officials discovered the latest problems as they were closing the books on the fiscal year that ended June 30. Its accounting system noted a discrepancy between the number of transactions and accounted revenue.

"Other toll agencies don't have this much visibility into their toll transaction processing. Their accounting system may not have identified this," said Craig Stone, Washington State Department of Transportation toll division director. "We're sending delayed bills, and that's not good news. But the good news is we found the issue."

Stone said WSDOT is not penalizing the private contractor, because the state will still receive revenue from the tolls.

Missing form, training

The contractor hired another company to obtain out-of-state vehicle owner information, so it can be matched with the image of the license plate photographed on the bridge. Stone said that company didn't submit a permission form that would have authorized it to receive information from the state of California. There were also problems getting information from a few other states, he said.

In addition, employees who review license plate images wrote down incorrect license plate numbers for certain specialty license plates. Washington State University plates include "WSU" as part of the number, but employees either didn't include it or inserted it at the end of the plate number, so it couldn't be matched with state Department of Licensing records.

The company has since submitted the California permission form, and the contractor has beefed up its training to fix the problems, Stone said.

Motorists who receive late bills can still sign up for an online Good to Go account and pay $3 instead of $5.50 for each toll during the affected period, before toll rates rose this summer.