PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — On Thursday, Governor Terry McAuliffe will announce a proposed budget amendment to ease toll burdens for Hampton Roads drivers. This follows two stories 10 On Your Side reported Monday and Tuesday.
Portsmouth resident Bill West got tolled driving on the Martin Luther King Expressway — which is not a toll road.
The state paid Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) about $80 million in July 2015 to keep the MLK toll-free. However, several toll charges showed up on West’s E-ZPass bill, even though he never went through the Midtown Tunnel. In reality, West was charged for entering the merge lane from Tunnel Facilities Drive, merging onto the MLK Expressway and going under the toll gantry, which charges drivers coming out of the Midtown Tunnel tube.
10 On Your Side called ERC after West’s complaints. One month ago, the company put up a sign on the road that reads “right turn must pay toll.” West took a right turn to get onto the MLK Expressway. WAVY’s Andy Fox argued since West’s travels took place in October, he should not be charged and ERC agreed to refund the charged tolls.
However, the bigger issue is just because ERC can’t — by legal agreement — toll cars that are only using the MLK Expressway, whether they put up a sign or not. 10 On Your Side pointed this out to Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, who said, “If this is accurate, I am going to have VDOT take a look at this, and we will have our attorneys look at this, but that would be a violation of our comprehensive agreements.”
On Tuesday, WAVY News reported about a Portsmouth man, Dean Blevins, who tried to renew his tags, but was told by the Department of Motor Vehicles that there was a hold on his account. Wednesday, following our report, he finally got his license plates renewed.
ERC put a hold on Blevins’ account for failure to pay tolls in 2015, which he disputed. 10 On Your Side asked him if he knew that happened. He answered, “I had no idea. I never received anything from anybody. No one.”
Blevins claims he never received anything from ERC about the charges, and didn’t know there was an issue until January when he went to renew his license plates. He called 10 On Your Side and we hooked him up with ERC.
“ERC admitted they are human, and mistakes happen, and they apologized for the run-around. I talked with four different people and was given four different scenarios,” Blevins said.
Following our report, both sides came to an agreement, and ERC removed the hold on Blevins’ DMV account.
10 On Your Side went with Blevins to DMV at Portsmouth City Hall, and in five minutes, he walked away with a renewed registration and stickers that show the license plates are good through February 2018. The hold on his account had been lifted by ERC.
For nearly three months, Blevins has been trying to get it right with ERC, and now it’s finally happened.
“If it hadn’t been for you all, I would be paying through the nose,” he said.
With new 2018 license plate stickers in hand, Blevins returned to his pickup truck.
“What a good feeling,” he said with a smile. “I can’t thank 10 On Your Side enough. Up until now, it has been tiring, and a bad experience. You all came together, and made it happen, and it ended up being a positive thing.”
Blevins praised ERC’s Public Information Manager Diana Barreto for helping him.
“I am glad that we were able to get this resolved to Mr. Blevins’ satisfaction,” Barreto said in an email to WAVY News. “I want to stress the fact that we want the opportunity to work with customers to get billing concerns resolved. As I mentioned earlier, we are limited by how we can reach out to people and need people to reach out to our ERT Customer Service Center for us to address their concerns and offer affordable solutions.”
Barreto also explained how not have your account put on hold:
“I’d like to mention that cases where customers with an E-ZPass receive a pay by plate invoice because of the lack of funds on their E-ZPass account is a common but avoidable problem. Customers who do not auto-replenish their E-ZPass account run the risk running into this situation.”
Barreto adds, “If a customer travels through the Midtown and Downtown tunnels with insufficient funds on their E-ZPass, they will receive a pay by plate invoice. Subsequent replenishment of their E-ZPass account will not cover trips taken while their E-ZPass is un-funded. For this reason we encourage customers to set their E-ZPass accounts to auto-replenish. If customers have an E-ZPass and receive a Pay by Plate invoice we need them to give us a call right away and not ignore it. Ignoring it will cause additional fees to be assessed on the transactions. Customers can call the ERT Customer Service Center and we will help them address this situation immediately.”