- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Washington’s electronic tolling system doesn’t have important functions that would help it process, collect and report tolls, according to a state audit released on Wednesday.

The report from the state Auditor’s office found the tolling system had a number of “missing or incomplete” functions that would help it run properly and bring in more money such as flawed transaction processing that makes it hard to collect tolls if the bill is sent to a wrong address.

The system also doesn’t have a good way to verify billing information, leading to more than 175,000 toll bills being returned as undeliverable in the first nine months of 2015, plus “customer frustration” and delays.

Among other needs recommended in the audit, a data warehouse would help the State Department of Transportation evaluate and monitor tolling performance without slowing every-day transaction processing. The audit also said poor aim by cameras sometimes miss pictures of license plates needed to send toll bills.

The department’s statewide electronic tolling system began in 2011 and collected more than $425 million between December 2011 and June 2015. It tolls drivers at four locations: The Tacoma Narrows Bridge, high-occupancy toll lanes on State Route 167, the State Route 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington and express lanes on Interstate 405.

Besides adding and developing tolling functions, the audit says not enough attention is being given to adding expert staff to develop and manage the toll system. It identified “fundamental problems” in the leadership and management of the department’s toll division that “hampered its ability to effectively develop and operate” the tolling system.

The transportation department responded to the audit in a letter on Wednesday, saying it would undertake suggestions and has already been implementing others.

A statement from the department said the audit didn’t accurately reflect its toll system’s “strong performance” in collecting tolls compared to other systems around the country.

“The Toll Division handles 37.6 million transactions every year, all while ensuring safe operations for drivers, safeguarding customer information and providing ongoing reports to the Legislature about our performance,” said Acting Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar. “There are always areas to improve, and we welcome that feedback.”

The Legislature has approved a new toll for the eventual State Route 99 tunnel currently under construction.

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