Governor proposes budget amendment to ease toll violation collections

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday proposed a budget amendment to ease the financial burden of the toll violation collections process in Hampton Roads.

The amendment closes a loophole to help reduce fees imposed on first-time offenders. It would also prohibit the Department of Motor Vehicles from placing vehicle registration holds on accounts unless the parent companies of Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC), the Skanska and Macquarie consortium, allow drivers the option to settle their toll violations with a cap of $2,200 for first offenders.

“The recent actions by the Macquarie-Skanska partnership are the epitome of bad corporate citizenship,” McAuliffe said. “[The partnership] is charging amounts greater than $2,200 for first-time toll violators. They are settling out of court at amounts far greater than the limits set in the agreement we made in 2015 to eliminate tolling on the MLK Freeway Extension and in 2016 legislation. This is a violation of the spirit of our agreement and further undermines the partnership’s standing in the Hampton Roads region.”

McAuliffe referred to three citizens who collectively owe $46,000.

“Are you kidding me? These three? That’s why we are here today and I am outraged,” the governor said. Toll Coverage

McAuliffe also said Thursday that a sign on access road near the Midtown Tunnel is coming down by close of business.

This follows a 10 On Your Side report about Portsmouth resident Bill West, who was tolled driving on the Martin Luther King Expressway — which is not a tolled road. McAuliffe says ERC can’t do that.

“Bill West is a Portsmouth resident and was charged a toll on the Martin Luther King Expressway… and that was wrong,” Governor McAuliffe said Thursday. “There were no signs, so how should you have known it? And it is poor business practice. It is going to stop and we are not going to allow it going forward.”

Late Thursday night, Skanska and Macquarie released the following statement in response to the governor’s news conference:

We heard and are taking seriously the concerns Governor McAuliffe expressed today about the tolling issues impacting some drivers using the Midtown Tunnel. One of the key elements of our partnership, as determined by the Commonwealth, was the use of tolls to produce some of the revenue needed to fund the construction and ongoing operations and maintenance of the tunnels and roads in the project.

We realize there have been challenges with a small number of drivers with unpaid tolls and fees, and pledge to continue our work with the Commonwealth to find solutions that are fair to all concerned.”

In October 2016, the governor introduced a tunnel toll relief program — a first of its kind in the nation — which gives qualifying residents a 75-cent refund on tolls after their eighth trip of the month.

Both McAuliffe and Layne have been highly critical of the agreement that allows Elizabeth River Crossings to toll the Downtown and Midtown tunnels. Just last week, Layne said in a letter to ERC that he’s disappointed with the way the company is handling tolls.

10 On Your Side has covered countless stories about drivers dealing with billing difficulties and facing thousands of dollars in fines and late charges from ERC.

WATCH: Gov. McAuliffe makes a proposal to ease financial burden of tolling. App users can watch on the Livestream page.