Forgiveness could be on the way for drivers who cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge without paying.
Motorists who pay the toll and an administrative fee within 80 days after their license plates are caught on camera will escape paying a penalty if a bill approved Tuesday by the state Senate becomes law.
Local officials asked for the grace period. “They think it’s kind of bad for tourism when someone comes and visits your area and gets fined $52 because they didn’t notice the signs,” Sen. Derek Kilmer, a Gig Harbor Democrat, said.
Besides helping confused visitors, Senate Bill 6499 might also provide a benefit to law-abiding toll payers, supporters say.
The Pierce County courts collect the money now, and the county keeps $40 from every ticketed driver who pays up. The other $12 goes to the bridge. Under the bill, the bridge would get all of the money, which supporters said would help keep tolls from rising.
The money would go to help pay back a $5.3 million start-up loan from the state, and Kilmer said it could help persuade the state Transportation Commission to hold the line on tolls. The commission has proposed raising cash tolls by $1 and electronic tolls for frequent users by 50 cents.
“Every dollar that comes into the account from violations,” Kilmer said, “is one less dollar that has to come in from tolls.”
But the idea intrudes onto the legal system’s turf – and revenue stream. Under the bill, the Department of Transportation would handle penalties and review appeals. The courts say they should be the ones to deal with those who don’t pay.
Courts have a proven system for dealing with infractions, Pierce County District Court Judge Maggie Ross said. Judges hear the case and provide a neutral ear for a driver accused of a violation by the state.
“They leave the room feeling as though they’ve been heard,” Ross said.
The county expects to lose $1.5 million in revenue if the money starts going to the bridge, said Al Rose, director of justice services in Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy’s office. The court system and McCarthy’s office prefer instituting an 80-day grace period without ending the courts’ role. That approach, which is being considered in the House, would cost the county less than half as much.
The 45-1 vote in the Senate sends the bill to the House.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826