Man says he was charged just for driving near the Midtown Tunnel

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A Portsmouth resident called 10 On Your Side after he says he was wrongly charged several times on his E-Z Pass. He also claims several calls to Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) went unanswered for months.

“Just terrible service,” Bill West says of ERC.

West used an access merge road to the Martin Luther King Expressway in October. There were no signs warning him that doing so would end up having his E-Z Pass charged at the time, but when WAVY News went back Monday, there was a new sign, which reads: “No right turn. Right turn MUST pay toll.”

The problem: West got billed in October for going through the Midtown Tunnel, which he says he never did. He used the MLK Expressway to get home for lunch, and there’s no toll on the MLK because it was paid down by the state to the tune of about $80 million.

Special Tolls Coverage on WAVY.com 

West says he has gone through months of frustration from ERC.

“I am on the phone for over 45 minutes on hold time while I’m at work,” he says.

10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox got in the car with West to see how he says ERC wrongly charged him for going through the Midtown Tunnel — which he says he never did.

The WAVY crew drove down the service road that goes over the mouth of the Midtown Tunnel then comes around to the side of the tunnel.

“This is how I get to work — the Portsmouth Marine Terminal entry point,” West explained.

10 On Your Side was told by ERC Monday that the access road is only for service vehicles, although there is no indication of that in signage. ERC says that the service lane is used to turn around over-height trucks.

West showed us how he merged onto the MLK Expressway. He ended up traveling under the toll gantry — which is there to read all cars that are coming westbound through the Midtown Tunnel.

When he saw the new sign posted on the road, West said, “Look at that brand spanking new sign. Right turn must pay toll… I made 26 calls to supervisors not one returned my call… I guarantee they are trying to compensate for this traffic though.”

WAVY News took West to ERC headquarters to get him help with his E-ZPass bill. There was no one there to meet us, but late Monday afternoon, Diana Barreto — the Public Information Manager for ERC — emailed the following statement to 10 On Your Side:

The sign “RIGHT TURN MUST PAY TOLL” was put up about a month ago in response to the fact that people were making that illegal right turn (and put it us as an) additional deterrent. The sign that denotes right turns are prohibited at that intersection…has been there for years, before the ERT Project began.

We understand that Mr. West was not aware that he would have to pay a toll when driving under the gantries having done this in October, before the “RIGHT TURN MUST PAY TOLL.” Since you said all his transactions were not related to using the U.S. 58 Westbound Midtown Tunnel we will be settling Mr. West’s Pay by Plate outstanding tolls and refunding his E-ZPass for the transactions on the document you left here at the office and also sent through email.”

Baretto went on to explain the toll gantries:

“When a car drives through the toll gantries, the gantries don’t take into account people who are making an illegal turn onto the roadway, but accounts for the intended use of the roadway. Mr. West was not being a charged a toll to use the MLK Expressway, the gantries were reading his E-ZPass under the assumption that he was using the roadway as it is intended, after driving through the U.S. 58 Westbound Midtown Tunnel.”

Baretto added, “Using the service roads as they are intended to be used would lead people coming out of [Portsmouth Marine Terminal] to the MLK Expressway without having to pay a toll.”

This is what is not clear, however, because there are no tolls on the MLK Expressway. If you go through the tunnels, then you are charged by the toll gantries.

Baretto responds: “ERC is committed to customer satisfaction and strives to work with our customers to address and resolve any billing concerns they may have. As you may know our CEO, Greg Woodsmall, has shared his email address and encourages customers whose experiences have fallen short of that goal to contact him directly at CEO@driveert.com.”

10 On Your Side also called Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne because Virginia paid over $80 million to reduce all tolls on the MLK Expressway, and that’s where West got charged. Layne expressed concerns about ERC customer service, and is looking into the entire tolling system that is set up on the MLK.

Transportation secretary again questions ERC’s toll collection practices