Audit takes aim at WSDOT over 520 Bridge tolling

SEATTLE -- It's been a rocky start for tolling on the 520 Bridge, and now a new investigation is slamming the Department of Transportation for how it handled the program.

From lost money to bad management, the report says changes need to be made -- especially with tolling coming to more local highways.

The state is planning automated tolling on the 405, Highway 99 and possibly I-90. But before that happens, the state needs to iron out many problems.

According to the new audit, WSDOT picked an under-qualified vendor to run the tolls, and that decision came back to haunt them.

For the first time, the public is learning why the tolling program on the 520 Bridge was installed nine months late, causing the state to miss out on $40 million.

The delay was good for drivers looking to save some money, but bad for the state's budget.

The audit says WSDOT selected a vendor that scored very low on technical accounting, didn't understand the requirements and drastically under bid on the project.

"That is something that caught our attention," said state auditor Troy Kelley. "Like, wow, they chose the lowest price vendor, who on the other metrics didn't quite stack up."

Kelley said state officials have to acknowledge the decision contributed to the loss of $40 million.

The audit says the toll plan was a technology project managed like and engineering project and the vendor didn't realize until six months into it that they'd needed to create a whole new software package.

The report also claims WSDOT failed to adequately address risks, proactively manage the project or hold the Texas-based vendor accountable.

On top of that, the department, "did not apply all available financial penalties for poor performance," according to the audit.

Instead of fining the vendor $300,000 per week -- which would have totaled $12 million -- the department opted to reduce payments by $3.9 million.

"They need to look at how they did things, they need to examine across the board how they're going to do in the future," Kelley said. said.

WSDOT officials welcomed the audit and have already made changes.

"Well, I think people need to recognize that over the last 7 -to-8 years, we've delivered a huge program. And most of those projects have been on time and on budget. And so all projects have an opportunity to have issues. And so overall we believe we've been very successful in delivering those projects," said Patty Rubstello of WSDOT.

The delays didn't cause toll prices to rise.