Monday, June 25, 2007

Elected officials drive Harris County toll roads for free

Thousands Drive Toll Roads For Free

June 25, 2007

KPRC-TV (Channel 2 Houston)
Copyright 2007

HOUSTON -- Some people drive through toll plazas without paying a dime, and it is perfectly legal, KPRC Local 2 reported Monday.

About 5,500 free EZ Tags have been issued to elected officials, county and state employees, firefighters and police officers. They are supposed to only be used for official business.

Who is making sure the system is not being abused?

"The question that you just asked is one of the reasons why the policy was placed under review five weeks ago," said Peter Key with the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

In the 15 years the toll road authority has issued free tags, there has never been an audit to make sure the tags were only being used for job-related purposes or to see if they were being abused.

Key said the individual departments that are issued free EZ Tags are supposed to monitor their own employees.

The departments were not required to turn in any paperwork to show the tags were being used appropriately.

Some motorists who use the toll roads daily said they were upset with the policy.

"I think that's unacceptable," one driver said.

Key said that until recently, the toll road authority never tallied the cost to taxpayers. The only raw numbers available were from June 2006 when free EZ Tags cost $82,557.80 in one month.

Key said he expects the number of people with free tags to be trimmed when the audit is complete.

The authority is working to come up with stricter policies to determine who gets free tags and how they are used.

The free tags cannot be used for parking at the airport.

© 2007

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