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December 6, 2011 at 6:14 PM

Young entrepreneurs are riding the 520-toll hype

As the state Department of Transportation gears up to start tolling the old Highway 520 bridge on Dec. 29, a trio of young men in their 20s are preparing a new iPhone app called Toll Avoider, with this icon.

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Motorists can leave an email address at tollavoider.com to be notified when the 99-cent app is ready this month. When drivers type in a destination, the app will spit back the current toll on 520, the mileage for that route and one or two alternates including free I-90, and a Google map of the route chosen. Also, Toll Avoider is linked to Park Place, a directory of parking lots with current hourly rates.

David Foster, Jesse Leikin and Jordan Philipson operate SeaBalt Solutions in the basement of a live-work townhouse off Lake City Way Northeast. “At peak times it’s $10 round trip, which seems a bit high,” says Philipson of the 520 toll rates. If there is high customer demand, they would upgrade the app to show trip times based on current congestion.

David Dye, deputy secretary of WashDOT, doesn’t expect that such a service would affect toll income, because thousands of people will weigh many time and cost factors over several months, before traffic reaches “equilibrium” across Lake Washington.

“I think it’s great, we’ve spurred innovation in the private sector,” he jests.

Tolls of up to $3.50 each way — plus a $1.50 surcharge for those lacking a state Good to Go transponder — will begin during a low-traffic week, and just before a Dec. 31 deadline to launch variable pricing, under a $127 million federal grant agreement, that’s meant to test how the new tolls reduce congestion.

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Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond has signed a certification note, dated Dec. 2, that says:

Based on extensive end-to-end system testing by WSDOT, assurances from the system vendor, and advice from the Tolling Expert Review Panel and external consulants, I certify the new statewide tolling operations center and photo toll system. I acknowledge that adjustments may be necessary during system stabilization.

Just what “adjustments” may be made is unclear, but Dye said some hiccups are possible when such a complex system goes live.

During the last major transition — a change of toll-collection firms at the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge this spring — some 4,300 or more drivers were mailed bogus citations. The state DOT stopped charging $52 penalties just last weekend (News Tribune coverage here), and will now collect “camera tolls” by mailing a bill to the home of drivers who don’t pay electronically or at a toll booth. Highway 520 will have electronic “Good to Go” payment and pay-by-mail, but no toll booths manned by guys like these:

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Comments | More in General news | Topics: Department of Transportation, Highway 520 Bridge, Paula Hammond

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