A state audit released Friday suggests the Department of Transportation didn't do enough to take risk into account when it hired a contractor to run its statewide electronic tolling program.
That's one of the reasons the audit cites for months of delay implementing the system and charging tolls on the state Route 520 bridge.
The state signed a $23 million, five-year contract with Electronic Transaction Consultants Corp. in 2009. Auditors said there were warning signs at the time, even though the price was right.
"The winning vendor received 18 percent of the possible points for its qualifications and technical approach, and 100 percent of the possible points for price," auditors wrote.
ETC had its lowest score in what auditors said is a high-risk area: accounting and financial approach. It received 4.5 of 87.5 possible points.
Other companies also scored low in technical areas, however, and the company "provided written confirmation that it understood the requirements and described how it would meet them." But the audit said the vendor's low bid should have indicated it didn't fully understand the requirements.
Another factor was a deadline for a federal grant that did not allow enough time to start the competition over, auditors said.
Later, the company would struggle to perform and WSDOT wouldn't be prepared with contingency plans, auditors said.
Auditors noted that Washington was entering uncharted territory with its new electronic tolling system that needed precise accounting, and WSDOT echoed that in a response statement:
"Launching an all-electronic tolling program for the SR 520 bridge and a new statewide back-office system would have been challenging for any agency," it wrote. "WSDOT had an aggressive implementation schedule that was required for the $154 million federal grant."