AUSTIN (KXAN) — Amid debate on which toll roads are impacted by a law that went into effect Thursday, the Texas Department of Transportation has announced only five toll roads are required to cap fees for delinquent users.
Once a TxDOT toll bill went to collections, drivers were previously charged a $25 fine for each individual toll.
“As of [Thursday], late fees for unpaid tolls will be capped at $4 per monthly billing statement. This means toll customers will be charged no more than $4 in late fees for their monthly statements for driving on Texas toll roads, not to exceed $48 in a 12-month period,” TxDOT executive director James Bass said in a new video posted on the state agency’s website. “TxTag can still charge customers other fees, such as for mailing and returned checks.”
In Central Texas, TxDOT says the following toll roads will be subject to the cap:
- SH 130, which runs from I-35/Georgetown to US 183/Mustang Ridge and down to Seguin at I-10
- SH 45 North and SH 45 Southeast
- Loop 1, except for the MoPac managed lanes that are operated by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. (CTRMA says MoPac Express is the 11-mile stretch between Cesar Chavez Street and Parmer Lane).
Both TxDOT and CTRMA agree that CTRMA-operated toll roads, like 183A, US 290 and SH 71, are not subject to the fee cap.
Earlier this week, CTRMA executive director Mike Heiligenstein told KXAN its toll road operations fall under a different portion of the law not affected by the cap.
Heiligenstein said although CTRMA doesn’t currently have a cap on how much violation fees their customers can accrue, he does think there needs to be some sort of cap in place, but a $48 annual fee cap would be “ridiculous” in instances where habitual violators drive on toll roads hundreds of times without paying.
“I would prefer that we have some kind of cap that is painful enough that people come in and pay for those 50 times that they used it and maybe that cap would be an incentive,” he said. “But we’ve also gotta have enough on the other hand.”
State Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, said earlier this week he believes the intent of lawmakers when they approved the measure was for it to apply to every toll road in Texas. It’s something he said he’ll advocate for next session.
“I do have two toll roads in my district. One’s run by TxDOT and the other one’s by the CTRMA, so when you transition from one road to the other, I think you should be on the same set of rules,” Dale said.
Outside of Central Texas, TxDOT says the only other toll road impacted by the cap on fees is the SH 99 Grand Parkway toll, except for the portions operated by the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority.
According to an email this week between TxDOT’s James Bass and a state lawmaker, so far only two upcoming toll roads will be required to adhere to the fee cap. Neither of those projects are in Central Texas.
For TxDOT, the cap on fees also comes with a change to its collections process. As of Thursday, Houston-based law firm Perdue Brandon Fielder Collins & Mott is no longer collecting fees from delinquent toll users. Instead, TxDOT’s prime contractor, Conduent, will handle collections. Anyone with outstanding collections can call TxTag customer service at 1-888-468-9824 instead of the collections agency.
TxDOT says Pay by Mail customers will also soon be able to opt-in to receive statements via email.
Last October, a KXAN investigation found that TxDOT 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. Still, last year alone, individuals paid more than $32.4 million in violation, collection and court fees related to TxDOT toll usage.
An example listed on TxDOT’s website shows that under the previous fee structure, a single 65 cent toll could be charged upwards of a $25 fee before being transferred to court, meaning an ultimate cost of $25.65. Now, under the new system, TxDOT’s toll escalation chart shows the most that could be charged for that 65 cent toll is $17.25.