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Texas firm to manage Tacoma bridge tolls

Five-year contract begins later this month

Associated Press

TACOMA – A Texas-based company has been hired by Washington’s Department of Transportation to manage electronic toll accounts and customer service for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and two other projects.

The department announced Wednesday that Electronic Transaction Consultants of Plano, Texas, had been awarded a five-year, $23 million contract that begins this month.

ETC will start managing the toll accounts for the bridge west of Tacoma in 2011. It already manages tolls for the high-occupancy lanes on state Route 167 south of Seattle, and starting in 2011 it will handle the planned tolls for the SR 520 bridge that connects Seattle with the suburbs east of Lake Washington.

Tolls on the bridge and SR 167 are collected by using transponders on vehicles. The Transportation Department says ETC will provide a statewide customer service center to manage those programs, as well as payment processing, violation collections and business management. Tacoma and Gig Harbor west of the Narrows will continue to have customer service branches.

Craig Stone, director of the department’s toll division, said the centralized approach will make it easier for drivers. It also could save money for the state, though it’s unclear how much.

The state has a $41 million contract with TransCore, of Harrisburg, Pa., which has collected tolls on the bridge since the second span across the Narrows opened. The five-year contract ends in mid-2012.

Stone said until then, Trans-Core will still manage staffing at the manual tollbooths and maintenance of the bridge’s field equipment. However, the state wants to renegotiate the contract for a lower amount.

Of the three projects ETC will manage, only the Narrows bridge will offer both electronic and manual tolling at booths. Drivers who use an electronic transponder pay $2.75 per trip to cross into Tacoma. Those without must stop and pay $4.

Stone said the state will study whether all-electronic tolls on the bridge make financial sense, but he wants to get experience with the SR 520 bridge before making a decision.

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