GLOUCESTER, Va. (Wavy) – A bill that would dramatically change the way drivers are billed for tolls in the state is making its way through the legislature.
House Bill 1069 addresses civil penalties for tolls, the period of nonpayment and notification of toll violations.
The change would be welcome news to people scheduled to appear before a judge for unpaid toll bills.
Wednesday there were 62 people on the docket in Gloucester General District Court.
Kenneth King lives in Gloucester but works in Newport News. After having his case continued he told WAVY, “to pay hundreds, thousands of dollars in fines is outrageous.”
Kevin Baines also Crosses the Coleman Bridge every day for work. He told 10 On Your Sides Brandi Cummings, “I feel like I’m being taken from… like somebody’s taking stuff from me it doesn’t feel moral at all.”
The two men joined the dozen others who faced a judge inside the Gloucester courthouse.
Baines said of his bill, “It added up to like $60, and they tacked on about $400 in fines. They take me to court and now it accumulates to $1,200, then if I dispute it — it goes to $16,000.”
Unpaid bills, plus fees, can sometimes total thousands of dollars in fines.
Of the 12 toll facilities in the state, VDOT handles violations for four of them. The only one in Hampton Roads is at the Coleman Bridge.
Virginia law says a driver can be taken to court for a single violation, but a VDOT spokesperson says they only take people to court if they have three or more violations.
“It doesn’t seem right at all,” Baines said.
Some state lawmakers are working to change things.
House Bill 1069 does several things including: extends the time you have to pay your bill, reduces the penalties, puts a cap on how much you can be fined and requires toll operators to contact you more often about the bill.
Tuesday, the house passed the bill 85 to 12. Now it’s up to state senators to decide what happens next.
The men we spoke to say even though they have to travel the Coleman Bridge everyday for work, they’ll be doing things differently from now on.
“I’m just going to try to keep better track of it,” Baines said
10 On Your Side’s Brandi Cummings spoke to Virginia’s Secreatry of Transportation Aubrey Layne. He said the state recognizes there is an issue with the tolls and it’s unfortunate.
He’s encouraging citizens to contact their senator about the bill.
The following is a Q & A with WAVY reporter Brandi Cummings and David Caudill, P.E., Division Administrator, Tolling Operations Division.
Cummings: How much does a toll bill have to be before a person is taken to court?
Caudill: Per Va. Code Section 46.2-819-1, a driver can be taken to court for a single violation.
Cummings: Are there any other ways to collect the unpaid toll bills?
Caudill: A driver can avoid going to court for a toll violation by either responding to the first or second Violation Notice or, if a summons is received, pursuing the Reduced Civil penalty process.
Cummings: What agency is responsible for collecting the toll bills?
Caudill: There are 12 toll facilities in Virginia. VDOT provides violation processing services for four of them. They include:
1. Coleman Bridge (a VDOT toll facility)
2. Powhite Parkway Extension (a VDOT toll facility)
3. the Open Road Tolling Lanes operated by the RMTA
4. Dulles Toll Road (Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority)
If a violation goes through the court process, the respective court is responsible for collecting the award. The award includes the toll, appropriate administrative fees, court applied civil penalties, and court fees. For violations addressed prior to court, VDOT collects the toll, administrative fee, and reduced civil penalty (if applicable) for the four facilities noted above.
Cummings: Which bridge/tunnel are the toll violations for?
Caudill: The George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge. The toll facility is located in Gloucester.
Cummings: Is this the first time violators are being taken to court or has this happened before?
Caudill: The docket size is not unusual. The court allows for a monthly docket of 500 summonses. One violation event equals one summons. A driver can have multiple summonses (violation events).
Cummings: Were the defendants given any warning that violating these tolls would result in a court case?
Caudill: Per VA Code Section 46.2-819.1, if toll violations proceed to court, they are heard in the court jurisdiction where the toll facility is located. The Coleman Bridge toll facility is located in the Gloucester Court jurisdiction. Coleman Bridge toll violations have been adjudicated in Gloucester court for more than seven years. Drivers are given two notices prior to receiving a toll violation summons. In addition, they are provided information included in their summons notice on how to pursue the Reduced Civil Penalty process in lieu of going to court. This is also provided for in the above noted VA Code section.
Cummings: I notice different charges such as 2D, 4H, 3D, etc….what does those charges mean?
Caudill: “2D, 3D, 4H …” are codes used by the court to note whether the summons is for a 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th /subsequent offense.