Questions remain on who will be impacted by law capping toll fees

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — There are still questions surrounding who all will be impacted when a law capping fees for delinquent toll users goes into effect later this week.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion on Monday announcing that the portion of Senate Bill 312 which caps toll fees at $48 during a 12-month period will apply to all entities who contract with the Texas Department of Transportation.

Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who asked Paxton for the opinion on Sept. 11, 2017, said the opinion still leaves some room for interpretation when it comes to the state’s transportation laws. Pickett said he believes the cap will apply to some, but not necessarily all, non-TxDOT toll roads that were approved by the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT.

A Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority spokesperson told KXAN on Monday that Paxton’s opinion “does not change anything for the CTRMA processes and fees.” CTRMA oversees the MoPac Express Lane, as well the US 183A and US 290 toll roads and SH 71 toll lane.

Last October, Austin-based law firm Locke Lord LLP, which represents CTRMA and about five other regional mobility authorities across the state, wrote letters to Paxton stating that the new law does not apply to RMAs and would only apply to future RMAs, should they enter into an agreement with TxDOT.

“The scope of the TxDOT Toll Provision is intended to be narrowly limited to only [Texas Transportation Commission]-designated projects,” according to the Oct. 13., 2017 letter from Locke Lord.

Pickett said he plans to file another request for an opinion with Paxton’s office to get more clarity about which toll road entities will be impacted by the law that goes into effect on March 1.

“We are going to follow-up so everybody will feel confident,” Pickett said.

It is clear, though, that the cap on fees will impact all TxDOT-operated toll roads, such as State Highway 130. The Texas Transportation Commission voted on Jan. 25 to impose the $48 administrative fee cap in $4 increments per invoice.

TxDOT spokesman Bob Kaufman said the agency is still reviewing Paxton’s opinion.

“[TxDOT] may have further comment once we have completed our analysis,” Kaufman said in a statement. “As you may know, the Texas Transportation Commission has already acted to adopt changes in accordance with SB 312 to modify fees charged to customers using facilities owned and operated by TxDOT.”

Before the cap on fees, KXAN revealed last October that TxDOT had sent more than 2.2 million TxTag customer accounts to collections, adding nearly $1 billion in fees alone. TxDOT stopped sending accounts to collections on Sept. 15, 2017. TxDOT’s collections agency, Perdue Brandon Fielder Collins & Mott, will accept payments for late fees, which were assessed at $25 per individual toll, through the end of the month.

Last year, TxDOT collected more than $32.4 million in violation, collection and court fees.

Pickett said he believes the cap on fees will help prevent drivers from getting taken advantage of by collections agencies.

“Is $48 a year enough, too much? If you’re somebody that owes you’d say it’s more than enough,” Pickett said. “But is it going to be enough to keep the [toll agencies] from abusing the system? We don’t know that.”

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