Collaboration in Civic Spheres

WSDOT seeks “toll educational” consultant for $2.3M

by August 5th, 2013

The Washington State Department of Transportation is advertising for a contractor to conduct “statewide toll educational services” focused on the fourth of five Puget Sound highways currently designated for electronic tolling, I-405. The $2.3 million sought in “educational marketing” services will be for three years with up to two two-year renewals at an additional premium. Meanwhile, the state continues to explore a more sweeping “vehicle mileage tax” – with an update presented last week to the transportation commission outlining possible technologies and current study timelines.

Now tolled are the SR 520 bridge, part of SR 167, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, with the SR 99 tunnel and I-405 to be electronically tolled as well, in varying configurations. Under current plans, I-405 would have two express toll lanes in each direction from Lynnwood in the north to Renton in the south, with un-tolled general use lanes as well. Tolls would vary by real-time congestion levels, with van-pools and transit exempt, and possibly high occupancy vehicles of two or three or more passengers exempt as well.

The state is also to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement of electronic tolling of I-90 between I-5 in Seattle and I-405, not just a more cursory Environmental Assessment, as originally planned. Additionally, tolling is being preliminarily eyed by the state for I-5 express lanes in Seattle, plus for the extension of SR 167 to the Port of Tacoma, and for an as-yet unbuilt section of I-509 which would connect to I-5 near Sea-Tac Airport. An overview with project links is at WSDOT’s tolling planning page.

State studies are showing tolling is not anywhere near to being a full solution to identified surface transportation funding needs in coming decades, but that it can help pay some of the expected bills and perhaps as or more importantly, can help control peak-hour congestion that’s exacerbated by too many solo drivers. However some suburban cities plus Seattle and King County are urging a more regional and coordinated approach than the bit-by-bit state strategy.

Vehicle Mileage Tax – The Quiet Elephant In The Background
Looming like a quiet elephant in the background is an even more sweeping sort of road revenue strategy, which the state is calling a “road user charge” but which is more widely known as a “vehicle mileage tax.” Involving odometer readings, or in-vehicle reporting devices, or other technology, it is now under consideration by a specially-appointed state committee.

State consultants provided an update to the WSDOT and the state transportation commission July 30 at the latter’s public meeting in Seattle. Detailed were possible technologies to be used, and the timeline for a recommendation to the legislature and development of a business case.

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This controversial approach is certain to raise privacy and taxation concerns but some experts nonetheless see it as necessary to fully fund road and transit operations and maintenance in coming decades. It is likely at least 10 years off, maybe 15. Some 20 states have already held or initiated pilot tests of the approach including neighboring Oregon. The current Washington state study includes a new pilot test with drivers from both Washington and Oregon, and cross-border routes.

Meanwhile the new WSDOT electronic tolling education bid notice – a request for qualifications” or “RFQ” to potential contractors, says the I-405 express toll lanes will open as soon as summer 2015 and $2.3 million will be expended to educate the public about them, with future renewals of the contract focused on other tolled facilities such as the new deep-bored SR 99 tunnel on the downtown Seattle waterfront.

“Statewide Toll Network” Eyed
The notice says the I-405 educational work will focus on explaining: how the dual tolled express lanes in each direction work; what the benefits of tolling are; how regional mobility benefits as a result of tolling; and the role of each tolled facility “within a statewide toll network.”

The winning contractor will be asked to build awareness not only in I-405 corridor communities but also statewide for WSDOT’s “Good To Go” electronic tolling account model, based on windshield-mounted “transponders” which are read by overhead devices called gantries, for automatic billing to corresponding vehicles.

The work will also seek to educate the public on carpool requirements and registration because tolls are likely to be exempted or discounted on I-405 for cars with two or three passengers.

RFQ submissions are due August 21, with the contractor pool to then be winnowed thereafter. This stage is typically followed by a request for specific proposals or RFP from the short list, then selection of a winning bidder.

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