ERC under pressure to fix tolling issues

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – 10 On Your Side continues to hear from people who say they are dealing with billing issues tied to the tolls at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels.

WAVY News 10 caught up with Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne to discuss the issues. He said he told Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) this: “If you can’t get people their toll bills in 60 days, they don’t have to pay.”

Secretary Layne outlined this in a September 19 letter to ERC’s leader Greg Woodsmall. In the letter, Layne demands Woodsmall get a written plan to resolve the billing issues by October 1.

10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox called Secretary Layne to tell him ERC wants to meet with him this week to discuss the plan. He said he had not received that call yet, but he hopes to discuss how ERC plans to fix the billing mess.

“Well, I think, Andy, they understand the state’s position,” Layne said. “You’re telling me they are willing to meet. There is an understanding they’ve got to get this changed. I made that message clear to them when we met.”

Elizabeth River Crossings can’t seem to get the billing for tolls right. The problem is impacting people like Valerie Turnage, who went through the tunnel in April and just got her bill.

“I was confused when I got the bill because I hadn’t been over to the Norfolk side in months,” she explained.

In his letter, Layne writes to ERC’s leader Greg Woodsmall: “I demand that you provide a formal written plan to address the deficiencies in your tolling operations.”

However, Layne’s letter goes further: he puts ERC out on a limb dangling in the wind, saying if ERC can’t get this billing right, “The Commonwealth will not be a party to any action to enforce video-monitoring toll payments through administrative action.”

Layne said, “Until I am sure their billing is corrected, I didn’t think it was fair that the DMV put holds on accounts when we don’t know whether those holds are valid or not because of the untimely billing.”

That means DMV will not withhold vehicle registrations or renewals from people for unpaid tolls, which is what they would do to make people pay their tolls.

ERC’s Leila Rice responded via a text message to WAVY’s questions about the billing issues. “We are seeking a meeting with Secretary Layne to share a plan with him that addresses the concerns he outlined in his letter,” Rice texted.

Secretary Layne also said future contracts will include language requiring timely billing, or else people don’t have to pay. He also did not rule out going to the General Assembly to get legislation demanding timely bills, or else drivers don’t have to pay the toll. He said he is confident there are many legislators who would savor the opportunity to sponsor that bill.

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