Thursday, April 26, 2007

Electronic Tolling Comes to Washington – Are You Good To Go?

On April 25, we opened the doors to the Good To Go! customer service center, ushering in a new era in driving in state of Washington.

It was quite a feeling of accomplishment seeing so many people line up at the new customer service center in Gig Harbor, knowing how many hundreds of hours of work went on behind the scenes to get the program to this point.

For more than a year we have been telling people that when the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge opens this summer, Good To Go! will allow drivers to pay tolls without stopping at a tollbooth. Apparently that message was heard loud and clear.

During the first day of operation, over 2,100 people signed up for Good To Go! accounts, ordering more than 4,800 transponders. Over 86 percent of accounts were opened online. In fact, the response was so great that the web site was pushed to capacity and some people were not able to get through online. We had to issue a news release this morning encouraging people to keep trying.

The electronic tolling system uses a small transponder inside the vehicle’s windshield to link to the customer’s prepaid account. Each time a vehicle approaches the toll collection area, the antenna reads the transponder and the system automatically debits the toll from the Good To Go! customer’s account, allowing drivers to maintain highway speeds.

With the response so far, we think that Washington drivers are anxious to save time by using the electronic tolling system. Similar systems are operating across the country. What has been your experience with electronic tolls in other states (or other countries)?

Posted by Janet Matkin, Good To Go! communications

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Expansion Joint - Round 2

The second Narrows Bridge expansion joint is scheduled to travel across I-90 sometime around noon on Monday April 23. If all goes as planned, it will spend Monday night at the Rye Grass rest stop. Once they reach North Bend it will only travel during night hours. An overnight stay is planned in Federal Way and the expansion joint will arrive at the bridge site on Wednesday.

Just as before, we have made sure that you can track its progress as it crosses the state. The Web team took the time to check and double check the wiring on the GPS device and are going into this round with lessons learned and confidence that it will be up the entire time (crossing our fingers).

Site Usage
When the first expansion joint came across the state, we estimated over 10,000 people accessed the truck tracking page on April 11th and 12th . We are very curious to see how many of you will be interested this second time around.

We want your photos
An event like this doesn't happen very often and we want to include you in this historic occasion. Send us your photos of the truck along its route and we will display them on the map. WSDOT has created a Flickr account (see photos) that will allow us to plot photos of the second expansion joint and display them on our tracking map.

Happy Tracking...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Alas, even the coolest technology has its limitations...

We, like many of you, had a lot of fun following the device across I-90 yesterday morning on its journey from Spokane to Tacoma, and were just as frustrated to find out that it was unable to communicate around 4:30 yesterday afternoon.

The device bases its location on satellite and cellular network coverage which we knew would be spotty across I-90 but we had our fingers crossed that the updates would be continuous enough to allow people to watch this historic occasion as the pieces travel to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge project that is nearing its completion.

Although quite fun to follow, this was really created as a management tool to help people make informed decisions to avoid the rig that unavoidably takes up two lanes.

Now we wait and see and hope the communication with the device will start up again while the truck is still traveling during the day. Once the truck reaches North Bend it will only travel at night, which won't be as fun to watch but will certainly make it much easier for those who need to get to where they need to without a big truck in the way.

In the meantime, we are going to the backup plan to manually update the site every 15 minutes to keep you up to date on where the truck is.

Update: Thursday, 12:30pm
The device started communicating again around 12:20 or so. Turns out some faulty wiring was causing the connection issues. We had just finished the manual update page and had it ready to go...funny how that works out sometimes.

Update: Friday, 12:15 pm
Device had trouble communicating again last night. Since it's in Federal Way today we had a local expert from Olympia drive up and examine the device and he discovered that bent copper clips on the power poles were the sole source of our troubles. A local Radio Shack provided a new connector for the fix and we are crossing our fingers that we won't have any problems with the device when the second truck comes into town.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Expansion Joint

Bridges move. You may not always feel it, but bridges move. There are many engineering reasons for this, but engineers factor into their designs the need for a bridge to move.

The new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the youngest sister to Galloping Gertie, who notoriously moved bridge engineering into the 21st century, has an expansion joint that weighs 100 tons and measures 70-feet long by 15-feet wide. The expansion joint makes it easier for bridges to move.

While the part is meant to help the bridge move, the part isn't moving. It was held at the state border on its way from the manufacturing plant in Minnesota to its final home in Tacoma.

That all should change this week. The experts are working out an appropriate trailer configuration and the expansion joint - along with its support caravan should roll toward Tacoma very soon. So many people have contacted us about this part that we have made sure you can watch its progress online.