ABC7 WATCHDOG

ICC users rack up millions in unpaid tolls

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WJLA) - A new Maryland law, enacted to better collect millions in unpaid tolls, isn't generating immediate success, an ABC7 investigation has revealed.

An ABC7 Watchdog investigation finds the bulk of that money remains unclaimed, and the vehicles racking-up those high bills continue to cruise down the road.

Unlike most toll roads, the Intercounty Connector, which links I-270 and I-95, uses video cameras and sensors to collect payment. Hailed as Maryland first all-electric toll road, the sensors instantly withdraw money from E-ZPass devices.

Meanwhile, cameras positioned at open-road toll plazas snap photos of cars that aren't equipped with the electric tablet, and in effect, "blow" the toll.

The Maryland Department of Transportation, which oversees the ICC and seven other toll facilities in the Free State, sends notices in the mail to the owners of cars caught on camera. The MDTA says mailed notices are 150 percent of the original toll price, the surcharge covers mailing costs and administrative fees not used by E-ZPass customers.

The problem is that many drivers never mail their toll payments back to the MDTA, yet continue to drive the ICC.

"Everybody knows life isn't free so you just need to man up and pay the fines. I don't think anyone should skate away for free," ICC motorist Carol Oser said.

The MDTA estimates only one percent of drivers disregard tolls. Nevertheless, that super-minority has generated quite a tab.

Since opening in November 2011, more than $3 million in tolls have gone unpaid along the ICC; $3,131,860.12 to be exact. According to the MDTA, the roadway's top offender has sped through 311 tolls, creating a delinquent account worth $8,281.60.

"My gosh! $8,000, that's just unbelievable," ICC motorist Faunee Williams exclaimed. "Now I'm going to look at the people driving alongside me and wonder if they're part of the group that owes big-time money."

"If they've racked-up that much, they're probably not going to pay it," ICC motorist Jheremy Sigler suggested.

For decades, the MDTA says it couldn't do more than issue a $25 dollar administrative fee to owners of vehicles that refused to pay tolls. However this July, a new law delivered a bigger bite out of scofflaws' wallets.

Under the new legislation, the MDTA now issues a $50 civil penalty, akin to a parking ticket, should a blown toll remain unpaid after 30 days. What's more, if the vehicle owner ignores the $50 civil penalty notice, Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration now has the ability to suspend the registration to his/her vehicle.

Five months have passed since the law went into effect, yet the MDTA reports it hasn't flexed its muscles once, despite thousands of cars continuing to cheat the system on state bridges, tunnels and toll roads, including the ICC.

"The MDTA has been transitioning to the new citation program since July 1, and no video toll transactions have escalated to the point of registration non-renewal or suspension," MDTA spokesman John Sales said in a statement to ABC7.

In October, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot) made national headlines when it released a list of its 25 Most Wanted Toll Offenders. The dramatic move shamed many Lone Star State drivers into paying-up. The MDTA however tells ABC7, it can't and won't follow Texas' lead, citing privacy concerns.

"State Government Article, §10-616(m) requires that the MDTA redact certain information from disclosure," Sales said in response to ABC7's request for names, addresses and license plate numbers for Maryland's Top 25 Toll Offenders.

Those top 25 offenders on the ICC have blown off a total of 15,082 tolls, racking up unpaid toll totaling $67,426.42.

Regardless of the amount owed, the MDTA and Maryland State Police say outstanding unpaid tolls are not an arrestable offense. State leaders say the most law enforcement can do is tow and impound a vehicle should its registration be suspended.

"Even if we can't make them answer to the state, they're going to have it on their conscience. That's good enough for me," ICC motorist Isabella De Luz concluded.

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