Monday, December 03, 2007

"More than 1.8 million toll transactions remain unpaid as of Oct. 31"

State to crack down on unpaid tolls

Drivers who ignore bills will be fined $5 per transaction next year

December 3, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Now may be the time to pay those pesky invoices for unpaid tolls from the state transportation department. Beginning next year, Texas will begin mailing violation notices to drivers who have ignored invoices for unpaid tolls.

It will take a lot of envelopes, given that the state says more than 1.8 million toll transactions remain unpaid as of Oct. 31.

The state began collecting tolls last December, when it began charging for access to the portion of Highway 121 in North Texas that had opened earlier last year. Since then, it has also begun collecting on toll roads near Austin and Katy, spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said Monday.

Drivers who go through an electronic toll gantry without a toll tag are mailed an invoice at the address associated with the vehicle's registration. The state transportation department says that it is owed about $1.2 million in unpaid tolls from drivers who have ignored those invoices.

Other toll roads in North Texas are operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority, which already sends violation notices – and imposes much stiffer fines – to those who do not pay. It will begin operating State Highway 121 early next year as well.

But the fines are new for the state, which has mulled a plan to send violation notices for months without any action. Beginning early next year, that will change.

The state's fines will be small – $5 per transaction – and will be assessed only against drivers who have ignored at least two previous invoices.

But even at $5 a pop, the amount owed could add up to real money.

Each time a driver goes through an electronic toll gantry, he or she is assessed a new toll. Each of those charges – often for just a few dimes – is considered a separate transaction and, if not paid, could trigger the $5 fine.

"The clear message here ought to be that now is a really good time to pay your balances, and to make sure you have responded to any invoices," Ms. Garcia said Monday.

The state transportation department has not decided when to begin sending the letters but is expected to do so early next year. In the meantime, Ms. Garcia said drivers with unpaid balances can avoid fines by paying up. Drivers unsure what they owe can call a customer service line at 1-888-468-9824, she said.

NTTA already has a system for collecting unpaid toll invoices – including sending a bill after 45 days with fines of $25 for each unpaid toll transaction. Unpaid fines can be sent to a collection agency.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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