Nearly 165,000 alleged toll violators in Maryland are being offered a "final chance" to pay off the $19 million they collectively owe to the Maryland Transportation Authority before it begins blocking or yanking their vehicle registrations — a power afforded to the agency by the state legislature in 2013.
The MdTA said it will begin mailing letters to the 164,500 violators on its books on Saturday, advising them that if they pay off their debts between Oct. 16 and Nov. 16, the agency will waive the $50 civil penalty per violation it usually collects and "cease further enforcement activities" against them, including any pending court action.
"If you have unpaid tolls, now is the time to take action and pay up to put your account in good standing," said Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn, who also serves as chairman of the MdTA, in a statement.
"Take advantage of this unique opportunity," said MdTA Executive Director Milt Chaffee in an interview Friday. "It'll only happen once."
The agency first began sending notices to violators that they could have their registrations suspended last November. At the time, the MdTA said there were about 131,000 violators who owed the state about $7.1 million in accumulated unpaid tolls — many of them drivers who lack an E-ZPass device but went through E-ZPass lanes in the state anyway.
Some arrived at tolls without any money, then failed to follow directions for how to pay, the agency said. All received an initial notice for payment under the state's video tolling system, and all subsequently received a $50 civil citation for noncompliance, it said.
The number of violators and their total debt to the agency has increased so dramatically in the last year in part because of an increase in the number of drivers passing through video toll facilities in the state, including on the Intercounty Connector in suburban Washington and the new electronic toll lanes on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore, Chaffee said.
Of those with unpaid debts, about 152,000 owe less than $1,000, Chaffee said. Violators in that category will have their registrations flagged for non-renewal if they don't settle their debts, and will have to pay an additional $30 to have the flag on their registration removed after they have settled their debts, he said.
About 12,500 drivers owe more than $1,000 in tolls and civil penalties. If they don't pay their debts, they will be referred by the MdTA to the Motor Vehicle Administration for immediate suspension of their registration, Chaffee said.
Court hearings that have already been scheduled over unpaid tolls will be cancelled if the alleged violators pay their debts beforehand, the MdTA said. The MdTA has declined to provide a list of violators.
The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation in 2013 that allowed the MdTA to issue civil penalties for unpaid tolls and yank drivers' registrations, as an added means to enforce collection on the millions in unpaid tolls.
The agency's attempts to collect on the toll debts follow Gov. Larry Hogan's move this past summer to lower toll rates at some of the MdTA's facilities. The agency depends on toll revenue — not tax dollars — to fund the upkeep some of Maryland's largest pieces of transportation infrastructure, including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Fort McHenry Tunnel.
Chaffee said the MdTA has not identified any specific projects that would benefit from the revenue collected on violators' debts, but sees the collection of the debts as the right thing to do.
"We would just like to collect the tolls because it is fair to everyone who uses the toll roads that everyone should pay," he said.
He suggested people with outstanding toll debts to pay them off immediately during this final grace period at www.ezpassmd.com.
Cheryl Sparks, a MdTA spokeswoman, said lines are expected at the agency's stop-in centers near toll plazas.