Abusive Tolling Practices
As you know, collection of tolls on our tunnels is managed by a private, for-profit corporation which generally operates free from governmental oversight. We have all heard of abusive collection practices against commuters, particularly when significant administrative and other fees are stacked on top of the base tolls of drivers who do not have E-Z Pass transponders in their vehicles. With strong bipartisan support, particularly from delegates in Northern Virginia whose communities are also facing new tolls, my legislation was ultimately incorporated into HB1079, an omnibus bill that I was proud to co-patron.
This bill places limits on the fees that can be added to base tolls, caps the total amount of tolls that can be assessed, and, very importantly, this bill would ban any future tolling on existing roads without specific approval by the General Assembly. Unfortunately, the Senate stripped this last vital provision from HB1079, which I opposed when the bill was returned to the House with Senate changes. While we were unsuccessful in restoring this significant protection to the bill, we were ultimately able to save the remaining protections to commuters it provided. HB1079 was enacted by the Governor, and since July 1, 2016 there are wide-ranging new laws in place in Virginia to provide commuters with more time to pay tolls, to protect commuters when E-Z Pass payments are declined in error, and to provide new legal protections for commuters limiting how quickly and how much the tolling companies can collect in court.
In the 2017 session, I again introduced legislation to prohibit the imposition of new tolls on our roadways without the permission of the General Assembly, thus checking the authority of unelected state bureaucrats to give away our roads to for-profit, private companies and impose tolls with no accountability to us, the public.
In the 2018 session, I brought this issue to the General Assembly once again; HB1070 would help protect localities against bad public-private transportation deals. I also introduced HB1069 which allows vehicle registrations to be extended for one month for citizens, whose registrations have been blocked due to toll debt, allowing them time to resolve the matter.
2019 once again saw our efforts fail to reverse this terrible practice.
In the 2020 session, I reintroduced House Bill 1243, which would force future projects to identify and inform localities of the potential impact public-private partnership deals may have on us. I also introduced House Joint Resolution 58, which render void as against public policy any state transportation contract allowing tolls to contain any provision limiting the state’s ability to build new tunnels or bridges or expand road capacity. Our localities must be protected in this process. I also introduced House Joint Resolution 101 which sought a study to reduce or eliminate the decades of tolls faced on the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels. Unfortunately, all three of these commonsense measures were defeated by the Assembly. We will continue this fight next year or as long as it takes.