Time gets close for bridge opening

July 14, 2007 

Friday’s mad rush to obtain transponders for the new Tacoma Narrows bridge included some disappointed owners of motorcycles and certain luxury cars,

Their vehicles, it turns out, are not Good To Go.

The electronic stickers, which will save time and money at the toll plaza, won’t work on motorcycles – even those with windshields.

And they won’t work on certain high-end vehicles, such as the $90,000 Mercedes S-class sedan, because of metal-containing infrared filters embedded in the windshield glass.

Luxury-car owners need to get a special transponder in a hard plastic case and screw it onto their front license plates – where owners worry they are likely to be stolen.

Motorcycle drivers are being advised to wire plastic transponders onto their bikes near the instrument panel, a suggestion that isn’t going over well in the biking community.

“That seems absolutely ridiculous,” said Norm Couts, the general manager of Tacoma Motor-sports, which sells Honda motorcycles. “I can’t imagine anybody doing that.

“Most motorcycle riders are very particular about their motorcycles,” he said. “They’re not going to just wire something on there.”

Another option for motorcyclists is to carry an external transponder in a handlebar pouch or a backpack, said Janet Matkin, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman for the toll system.

External transponders are more powerful than stickers, she said, and can be read through many light materials.

A line of about 75 people snaked out of the Good To Go office in Gig Harbor on Friday afternoon. Workers handed out bottles of water to those in line, many of whom waited up to an hour and 45 minutes before reaching the counter.

Some chatted on cell phones with family members, telling them how the transponders worked or asking for their license plate numbers.

Others walked up to the entrance, saw the line and simply turned around.

Craig Gehlert, who lives near Purdy, said he stopped by the Good To Go office in Tacoma on Thursday but left because it seemed too busy.

The 32-year-old assumed the Gig Harbor office wouldn’t be as crowded Friday. After standing in line for almost two hours, he admitted he was wrong.

“I figured everybody would be at work,” Gehlert said.

The most common problems drivers were running into involved the transponder’s installation, said Jessica Yasenchak, a Transportation Department customer service manager.

Some accidentally destroyed the transponders when trying to peel off the sticker’s clear backing.

Others realized too late that they owned one of the vehicles that required a license-plate-mounted transponder, so they had to wait in line again.

Matkin said that, as of Friday, more than 53,000 customers had signed up for the Good To Go system, registering more than 115,000 vehicles.

Unfortunately, Matkin said, people have been slow to put the stickers on their vehicles. Cameras at the toll plaza indicate that only about half of vehicles registered for the program have stickers on them.

“It seems obvious,” Matkin said, “but we want to make clear to people that they actually need to apply their transponders.”

OPENING-DAY SCHEDULE

Schedule of events for the opening-day celebration Sunday of the new Tacoma Narrows bridge:

8 to 10 a.m.: 5K Narrows bridge run-walk

9:30 a.m.: “First toll” ceremony (toll plaza on Gig Harbor side)

10 a.m.: Bridge deck opens to public.

10:15 a.m.: “Bridge of Faith” remembrance ceremony (Gig Harbor side)

1:30 p.m.: Official bridge dedication and ribbon-cutting (Tacoma side)

3 p.m.: Last shuttle bus to bridge leaves from designated parking lots in Tacoma and Gig Harbor.

3:45 p.m.: Bike path dedication (Tacoma side)

4 p.m.: Celebration ends.

Shuttle bus schedule

Buses will run every 15 minutes Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Tacoma Community College, 6501 S. 19th St.; the Tacoma Narrows Airport, 1202 26th Ave. N.W., Gig Harbor; and Gig Harbor High School, 5101 Rosedale St. N.W., Gig Harbor.

WANTED at thenewstribune.com: YOUR PHOTOS

Are you going to the Tacoma Narrows bridge opening-day festivities? Why not take some photos and upload them to our Web site? We might print a few in the paper. (The News Tribune has full and unlimited rights to submissions.) coming sunday

A reprint of our special collector’s bridge section

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

rob.carson@thenewstribune.com

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