Bill moves out of Senate panel without General Assembly oversight of tolls

3/2/2016

A bill that would’ve given the General Assembly more oversight in implementing tolls will move to the full Senate with those provisions largely stripped out.

The Senate Transportation Committee worked until Wednesday evening to come to an agreement on HB1069, which now focuses on only two provisions: protecting consumers from high toll violation fees and fines and partnering with other states to recoup unpaid tolls from out-of-staters.

In its original form, the bill sponsored by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, would have generally prohibited tolling on any existing highway, bridge or tunnel without approval of the General Assembly. However, it would have allowed tolling without approval in certain circumstances, like high-occupancy toll lanes, new lanes or new bridges.

While his bill was stripped of those aspects, Jones said the substitute bill is a “wonderful first step” to address consumer protection.

Senate Transportation Chairman Bill Carrico, R-Grayson County, said he has sent many other tolling policy bills to an interim study and thought it wouldn’t be fair to let this one through.

The agreement came after a committee recess during which two Hampton Roads representatives, who had different ideas on tolling policy, worked on a compromise.

“Sometimes families have a dust-up. … I appreciate you sitting down and working through this,” Jones told the committee.

Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, said he thought all tolling decisions should go through the legislature. Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne said that plan would’ve essentially killed any public-private partnerships since concessionaires would not want to work on a project for months only to have to clear the hurdle of 140 legislators, too.

Sen. David Marsden, D- Fairfax County, agreed, saying, “I don’t know if I could get 140 votes to agree the sky is blue.”

Both were moot points by the end of the night.

What remained were consumer protections that capped civil penalties and administrative fees for first-time toll offenders at $2,200; set administration fees for overdue tolls at $25 and then $100 after 60 days; and adjusted other fees at $50 up to $500.

It includes a provision to require notifications for E-ZPass customers with low balances or other problems such as missed tolls or a credit card number being declined during an automatic refill of the pass.

The bill would allow Virginia to enter into agreements with other states like Maryland and North Carolina to collect $21 million in unpaid tolls from out-of-staters. The bill would let governors make agreements that put holds on DMV registrations until tolls are paid. The same would happen to Virginia drivers who have not paid tolls in another state.

The bill will be heard by the full Senate soon. Because the bill was amended after it passed the House several weeks ago, it will have to go before the House again.

Jones, who sits on the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, said he introduced HB1069 after the commission looked at six scenarios that would put fixed tolling on nearly every water crossing.

The commission has since backed away from the heavy tolling plan, but Jones said he felt the issue of tolling on existing lanes needed to be addressed.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board makes the final decision on tolling plans.

Jordan Pascale, 757-446-2276, jordan.pascale@pilotonline.com