Special Reports

Tacoma company loses out on bridge tolls

A Tacoma company has lost its chance to bid on a contract to collect tolls from drivers once the second Narrows bridge is opened to traffic in 2007.

U.S. Magistrate Kelly Arnold, in a decision made public earlier this week, dismissed a lawsuit filed last October by ID Micro, Inc. of Tacoma.

ID Micro claimed the state Department of Transportation violated federal law by awarding the toll-collection contract without seeking competitive bids.

The state agreed in September 2002 to pay TransCore, a Delaware company, $9.1 million to design a toll-collection system for the new Narrows bridge.

ID Micro argued the state should have asked for competing bids because federal funds have been used to pay for part of the bridge project.

The state received more than $1.4 million in federal funds in the early 1990s to pay for an environmental impact study and transit study for Highway 16, including the bridge.

However, Arnold ruled that the federal money was for a study, not construction, so the federal law did not apply.

The new bridge will be paid for entirely by drivers who will pay a toll to cross the bridge, although some improvements to the existing bridge and parts of Highway 16 will be funded with state money.

Greg Stewart, co-founder of ID Micro, said the company won't appeal the federal magistrate's ruling.

"We gave it a good try, but there are budgetary restraints" to an appeal, Stewart said.

Deborah Cade, a state assistant attorney general for DOT, said the state was not obligated to seek competitive bids because the toll-system contract was awarded under a different procedure allowed by a 1993 state law.

TransCore was a subcontractor chosen by the company that won the right to design the second bridge. That work has since been passed on to Tacoma Narrows Constructors, which has been building the bridge for the past year.

The state is spending $849 million to build a second bridge, convert the existing bridge to a three-lane, one-way structure and build a toll plaza and interchange on the Gig Harbor side of the bridge.

The second bridge is expected to open to traffic in April 2007 with an initial round-trip toll of $3. Each of the twin bridges will be one-way, but the toll will be collected only on the new bridge, which will carry traffic from the Gig Harbor Peninsula to Tacoma.

Joseph Turner:253-597-8436