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January 30, 2011  |  The case of the missing tollbooth  |  8284 hit(s)

I got one of those robo-tickets not long ago, where you get caught on camera (or similar) and a week later you get a ticket in the mail. The infraction in question was that I'd crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and not paid the toll. (For those of you not familiar with the topography, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge connects Tacoma on its east side to Gig Harbor on its west side.)

I sent the form back and requested a "mitigation hearing," in which admit that you committed the infraction, but you tell them that there were, well, mitigating circumstances.

This all happened shortly before Christmas. My wife and I had attended a social event in Tacoma, which, let me emphasize, is not where we live, and which I don't know all that well. On the way home, through a set of maneuvers that I absolutely can't reconstruct, instead of going northbound on I-5 toward home, we somehow ended up going westbound on SR 16. Moreover, we didn't even realize this until all of a sudden I saw a sign for the Narrows bridge. But by the time I saw the sign, we were past the last exit on the Tacoma side, so like it or not, we were going to cross that bridge and head toward Gig Harbor.

Under the circumstances, the reasonable thing to do is to go to the next exit, get off the highway, and turn back the way you came. Yes? That's what we did. The exit immediately after the bridge is Exit 8, which is for 24th St NW. We got off there, crossed over SR 16, then got back onto the highway going eastbound toward Tacoma.

Now, we know that the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is a toll bridge. I've even crossed it before (on the motorcycle). What was odd, then, was that after this U-turn that we did, we didn't encounter the tollbooth, which is on the eastbound side of SR 16. Instead, we merged onto the highway just a couple hundred feet from the bridge and sailed on across. I was willing to pay the toll (not without cursing myself for being an idiot), but we never even got a chance to do that. At that exact moment, it looked as if there was no toll if you somehow managed to get onto eastbound SR16 at Exit 8.

But of course, that isn't how it works. Apparently the onramp for Exit 8 is monitored by some of those "Good To Go" transponders that look for your prepaid pass. Which I of course don't have. So, as noted, the state cybercop tracked me down.

Here's how the system is laid out (click to see the Google Maps version):

Notice where the tollbooth is w/r/t Exit 8.

I'd bet a nickel (actually, I guess I'm betting $52, sort of) that there's a sign somewhere in the vicinity of the Exit 8 onramp that says something to the effect of "If you don't have a Good To Go pass, you can't use this exit." Or whatever. If there is such a sign, I didn't see it. (Neither did Sarah, fwiw.)

So that's the story I have for my mitigation hearing. If you were the judge, what would you say?

JaAG   30 Jan 11 - 9:59 PM

If it happened to you Mike, it could happen to anyone. I'm guessing that it has happened and happened a lot. Good luck!

Pat   05 Oct 12 - 9:33 AM

The same thing happened to us in Sept 2012. We saw absolutely no signs or toll booths, found ourselves on SR16 right in front of the bridge after entering from 124th. We were sent a bill for the fee and paid it. It looks like they are no longer sending out tickets, which is good. They apparently want you to backtrack North and hit an exit where there are toll booths, but there is nothing on the entrance to SR16 at 124th telling you this, at least not from the direction we were going.

mike   05 Oct 12 - 10:01 AM

I"m glad (well, sort of) to hear that it wasn't just me. The mitigation hearing didn't help any; I was still liable for the ticket, alas.