State audit finds problems with WSDOT toll collection system

OLYMPIA, Wash. --  A new audit of the Washington state toll system says the state is failing to collect millions of dollars in tolls and fines.

The Washington State Auditor’s office conducted that performance audit and found some problems with the Washington State Department of Transportation's toll collection system.

One of the major problems -- there is $96 million out there in outstanding tolls, fees, and fines.

If you drive in the Seattle-Tacoma area, you’ve seen the toll lanes.

Since 2011, the state of Washington has been using its all-electronic toll collection system. It’s a system sometimes filled with errors that has many drivers frustrated.

“Sometimes I wouldn’t get the bill and then all of a sudden I owe an additional $40,” said Kim Havok, who lives in Redmond.

“Typical for a state program, it’s mismanaged,” said Steve Cowman, who lives in Redmond.

Currently, the state tolling system is collecting fees from four areas -- the high occupancy lanes on State Route 167, the 520 Bridge, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the express lanes on Interstate 405.

“My husband commutes daily to Seattle and it is expensive, and now hearing there’s some problems with the accounting, that sort of thing, I don’t feel too confident about it,” said Kelly Almeleh.

According to the audit presented to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee on Wednesday, the toll system had operational limitations that was   affecting toll processing and collection of bills.

“Our financial reporting is accurate, the system we have in place is inefficient, I will grant you that, but it takes some work on our part,” said Roger Millar, acting transportation secretary for WSDOT.

The audit found that the toll division has $96.4 million in outstanding debt and it only expects to collect about $37 million of it.

“Our intention is really collecting the tolls. The fees and penalties are really about enforcement and getting people to actually come forward and pay that toll,” said Patty Rubstello, the Assistant Secretary for WSDOT.

WSDOT says the system is successful and it’s already working on improving it.

“Yeah, they got to revamp it, got to upgrade it, they got to do something about it,” said Phillip Touneh, who lives in Bellevue.

WSDOT says it already took care of the some of the issues included in the audit and they are working to incorporate many of the recommendations given, so the same mistakes don’t happen again.