3/2/2016Virginia Lawmakers Consider Slowing Toll Push
Virginia House of Delegates votes to restrict tolling and fines for alleged toll violations.
Virginia's last three governors, Republican and Democrat alike, rejected the idea of building any new freeway lanes. Instead, they envisioned the commonwealth's motorists paying a toll on as many roads as possible, exercising the unilateral authority granted by the General Assembly to do so. Last month, the House of Delegates voted 85 to 12 to repeal that authority, and the state Senate is currently considering doing the same.
Delegate S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) introduced the legislation, which would not affect the spread of toll lanes to every freeway in Northern Virginia, including the upcoming Interstate 66 and 395 projects. The bill was carefully crafted to protect downstate motorists.
"Public trust in the tolling process has been severely harmed in the aftermath of the contract related to the Elizabeth River Tunnels," Jones wrote in his summary of House Bill 1069. "[The bill] provides legislature with largest role they have ever had in approving tolling and ensures that no administration can move forward tolling of highway lanes that are open to all traffic 24/7 without General Assembly approval."
If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the Virginia Department of Transportation, Commonwealth Transportation Board, and various regional agencies would no longer be able to impose tolls without prior approval from the General Assembly. Tolls could only be added to newly constructed lanes or high occupancy vehicle lanes, as long as the number of free lanes remains the same.
In addition, the proposal takes away the authority of private tolling companies to impose massive fines in the event of an E-ZPass transponder failure. Transurban, the Australian tolling firm, recently lost a major court case when it charged a woman $31,000 because her E-ZPass failed to register $50 worth of tolls.
The proposal ensures E-ZPass owners are not penalized for a tolling equipment malfunction or a low balance. No fine would be imposed during a grace period in which the state would have to notify the customer by text message or email to resolve the issue. In the event ten days pass without the toll being collected, a fine is imposed, but the total fine amount would be capped at $2200, no matter how many tolls went unpaid.
A copy of the bill is available in a 125k PDF file at the source link below.