WASHINGTON — Virginia has sent more than 360,000 violation notices to drivers who used Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway during tolling hours without an E-ZPass since tolling began last December, according to data provided to WTOP.
More than 100 of the violations have been sent to the courts, where drivers face even more fines, fees and penalties.
In all, the data suggest drivers paid or owe around $3 million in administrative fees and court costs.
The total could have been nearly double that if Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration were not waiving the $12.50 fee on first notices sent through the mail six days after a missed toll.
The fee waiver is only temporary, and the fees are expected to return to first notices at some point, said David Caudill, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s division administrator for tolling operations.
The 362,107 initial violation notices sent between Dec. 4 and Aug. 31 do not include cases where drivers went online to pay the missed toll within five days to avoid additional fees; 241,275 of those violations have now been paid.
“In context, although the original [violations] number seems big, given the length of time and the number of transactions we’re generating on the facility, that’s not a big number,” Caudill said.
Nearly 5.8 million (5,792,713) I-66 tolls have been paid either via E-ZPass or the missed toll feature through the end of August, VDOT said. Based on separate reports, there have been somewhat fewer trips than that taken by HOV users.
Just over 99,000 (99,208) of the violations were not paid within 30 days of the first notice, which led to a second notice and a $25 charge on top of whatever the toll price was at the time a driver used the road.
Less than 38,000 (37,739) of the violations were not paid within the next 30 days, which led to those violations being sent to collections with a total charge of $35 on top of the toll price.
“Collections is, in this case, a good thing, because if you can take care of it before the next step — which is the summons/court process — you avoid all the fines and penalties and you’re just dealing with admin fees. The fine and penalties get steep,” Caudill said.
So far, 188 of those 37,739 have been sent on from collections to the courthouse.
Violations are only referred to the courts at least 120 days after they occurred, so more of the violations already issued could be sent to the courts later.
Virginia law allows for total penalties, tolls and fees charged after a conviction in court to be as high as $2,200 for a first conviction. The civil penalties alone are $50 for a first violation, $100 for a second, $250 for a third and $500 for a fourth.
Some vehicles have been tagged for multiple violations, Caudill said, so the total number of violations issued since December does not represent the number of individuals who have used the road during HOV or tolling hours without an E-ZPass.
Even drivers who have an E-ZPass can also end up facing a violation notice if there is no money in their account or an expired credit card is linked to the E-ZPass auto-refill feature.
VDOT did not respond to a request for information about how many, if any, cars that used the road without an E-ZPass have not had a violation notice sent to them for some reason other than the driver paying the missed toll online.
In order to ride free eastbound 5:30—9:30 a.m. or westbound 3—7 p.m., car drivers must have at least one other person in the car and an E-ZPass Flex switched to HOV mode.
Motorcycles also ride free, but VDOT continues to face challenges with the automatic tolling system sometimes misidentifying larger motorcycles as cars. Most of those mistakes are caught during a manual review process done before toll violation notices are sent out, but Caudill said a few may still be getting through.
“If you have a motorcycle and you get charged a toll, you just got to call our back office,” Caudill said.
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