Thursday, September 20, 2007

CTRMA: "The folks who were not going to get a TxTag voluntarily are being forced to make a decision."

Tolls now enforced on 183A


Veronica Castelo
News 8 Austin
Copyright 2007

If you've received a "Notice of Toll Violation" in the mail, chances are you're one of thousands using the new 183A toll road in Williamson County without paying.

Violation notices are being sent out now. The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority says about 15 percent of drivers are whizzing by the electronic tolls near Lakeline Boulevard. Last Wednesday, about 5,000 drivers used the toll road on Lakeline south and north without paying.

The toll road open in March and was free to use until June, when it was half price. The full toll began in July. The CTRMA says they've waited until September to begin enforcing the tolls.

"Once you've had three times through then we send you a notice with an administrative fee attached. It's a $5 fee. Then on top of that if you decide to get a TxTag we will waive the $5 fee," Steve Pustelnyk of CTRMA said.

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that drivers pay at one booth, then a few blocks later find themselves illegally passing by the only electronic toll in Austin.

The alternative to getting a TxTag is jumping off at one of the exits marked "free exit," like the one at Avery Ranch Boulevard. The only problem is that many of the free existing roads have been rerouted.

"It's like a bowl of spaghetti. You just can't find your way out of where you're going. You end up elsewhere," Sal Costello of Texas Toll Party said.

Costello is a vocal opponent of toll roads. He says it's part of a plan to get more people on board with toll roads and more money in the pockets of special interest groups.

"People are getting pressured. I've gotten so many emails from people saying, I only got a TxTag because I'm forced to use a toll road now and I have to get TxTag to get a discount," he said.

Pustelnyk says that's true to an extent. Highway 183A is an 11.6-mile, $238 million road that runs from 620 at 183 to south of the San Gabriel River. The portion near Lakeline Boulevard is the only part that exclusively accepts electronic payment.

"With an all electronic road like ours, to a degree some people, the folks who were not going to get it voluntarily are being forced to make a decision," Pustelnyk said.

Habitual offenders face penalties, like a $250 fine referred to a collection agency, but the CTRMA says they are willing to work with people.

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