Special Reports

Sticker shock: Yes, forget the tollbooths

David Pope might have been selling dish detergent or antiperspirant. With the TV cameras rolling Tuesday, he held up one of the state Department of Transportation’s new electronic toll collection stickers and beamed.

“It’s convenient, fast and easy,” he said.

Pope is the toll systems manager for the new Tacoma Narrows bridge, which will cost $3 to cross when it opens next year. He and the Transportation Department hope to get as many people as possible to put stickers on their windshields instead of stopping at a booth and handing over cash.

Here’s a quick e-toll primer:

The advantage: Using the electronic transponder will allow drivers to cruise past the toll entrance without slowing.

The carrot and the stick: The new $849 million bridge will increase Highway 16’s capacity, but unless enough people participate in the electronic system, traffic engineers say, cars will back up behind the tollbooths as people fumble for change.

How it works: You open a prepaid account and deposit at least $30. When you apply, you’ll get a sticker you attach to the inside of the windshield, near the rearview mirror. Every time you cross the bridge, using one of three special lanes, the toll is automatically deducted from your account. When you use up the money in your account, you can renew it. You don’t have to get a new sticker.

The timetable: The stickers won’t be available until this fall, but the state already has a campaign slogan: “Good To Go!” It will start pushing the stickers six months before the bridge is to open in April 2007.

Getting a sticker: When they’re available, you’ll be able to get them by mail, online, by phone and by visiting offices the Transportation Department will set up in Gig Harbor and in Tacoma. You can sign up online at wsdot.wa.gov/goodtogo if you want to get on a notification list.

Cost of a sticker: Nothing. The Transportation Department will hand stickers out for free. That might charge later.

Commuter price break: Don’t count on one. The state Transportation Commission meets this morning to discuss the idea, but the more people who get breaks, the longer it’s going to take to pay off the bridge.

Multiple cars: If you have more than one car, you can get more than one sticker and link them to the same account. Don’t try taking it out of one car and putting it in another. Removing the sticker deactivates it.

Cheaters: A dozen cameras will record anyone driving through the automatic toll lanes without paying. They’ll photograph everybody’s license numbers, front and back. Cheaters will get a notice in the mail and a fine.

Outrunning the cameras: Not likely. In Europe, they’ve tested the cameras on vehicles traveling 150 mph. They still work.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693