495 Express Lanes trip cost woman $10,000

FAIRFAX, Va. — A Northern Virginia woman who took 11 trips on the 495 Express Lanes is being charged more than $10,000 in tolls, administrative fees, court costs and civil penalties.

Toni Cooley took the trips over a two-week span in November and December 2012. Her E-ZPass on the 495 Express Lanes did not register because she did not properly set up auto-renewal on her account. Before she knew it, Transurban sent Cooley a bill for several hundred dollars. Transurban operates the 495 Express Lanes.

Cooley wrote a check to Transurban for about $11, or the total cost of the tolls.

“I wrote a note saying ‘I’m only going to pay for the tolls.’ They noted that in emails. Everyone agrees that I paid the amount of tolls that were due,” says Cooley.

Eventually, her debt went into collections. After about six months, it was turned over to Fairfax County District Court.

The total bill skyrocketed to $10,692, including $8,800 in civil penalties, $1,100 in administrative fees and almost $792 in court costs.

“I had to pull out a calculator because I was going crazy. I was having a heart attack, like ‘Oh my God.’ Every attorney I speak to tells me that this is unbelievable,” says Cooley. “I’m not paying those civil penalties for something I didn’t do.”

Cooley believes the administrative fees that Transurban charges drivers are excessive and unnecessary. Transurban charges drivers $12.50 in fees per trip, then $25 per trip after 30 days. If a toll goes unpaid for more than 65 days, it goes to law enforcement services, a collections agency, with a $100 per trip fee.

Transurban says the fees are necessary to recoup the costs for contacting the DMV to track down the driver, customer service, and the technology used to capture the tolls and toll violators.

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