What to Know
- Records show thousands of drivers failed to promptly pay their tolls, accruing thousands of dollars in overdue payments and late fees.
- Intercounty Connector drivers who fail to pay tolls within 45 days face a $50 fine for each drive on the highway.
- At least 20,000 drivers have had their car registrations suspended by state authorities because of overdue toll payments.
As many as 15,000 people owe Maryland at least $1,000 in overdue tolls and fees for using the state’s Intercounty Connector highway, a toll road which uses video technology to issue toll fees to drivers by mail.
State records obtained by the News4 reveal Maryland is owed more than $64 million in toll money and late fees from users of the Intercounty Connector, which opened in 2011.
The overdue payments have led to the suspensions of tens of thousands of Maryland car registrations and triggered a growing debate over whether the state’s late fees are too large and onerous for drivers.
The Intercounty Connector, which connects Interstate 270 in Montgomery County with Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County, carried 32.6 million cars in 2017. It operates without toll booths, employing monitoring devices to charge E-ZPass transponders or to photograph the license plates of cars without active E-ZPass transponders. Drivers without transponders are issued a bill for their tolls by mail.
The I-Team’s review of Maryland Transportation Authority records show thousands of drivers failed to promptly pay their tolls, accruing thousands of dollars in overdue payments and late fees. In at least one case, an Intercounty Connector driver amassed more than $120,000 in overdue payments.
At least 20,000 drivers have had their car registrations suspended by state authorities because of overdue toll payments.
Several of those drivers and one Maryland state senator told the I-Team the state’s system for instituting fines is punitive and risks the financial well-being of thousands of Maryland drivers. Intercounty Connector drivers who fail to pay tolls within 45 days face a $50 fine for each drive on the highway, in addition to a 17 percent surcharge for significantly overdue bills sent to the state’s collection agency. There is no cap on penalties and fees, state officials said.
“It's absolutely predatory; it's punitive," state Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery County, said. "And what's happened is we've created or that the state has created this bureaucracy which is essentially a money-making scheme.”
Manno has proposed legislation to cap highway video toll fees at $300.
Rev. Ken Nelson of Silver Spring told the I-Team he amassed $3,000 in toll and late fees driving the Intercounty Connector to and from his work and his Germantown church, partly because of a malfunctioning E-ZPass transponder.
“When you get the (bill), sometimes the notice came right after a 30-day deadline,"Nelson said. "And (the bills) multiply, and it’s difficult to keep track.”
Nelson said he used savings to pay the $3,000 to avoid having his Maryland registration suspended, but he said he received less help than he expected from transportation authority’s customer service system.
Judy Goldfield of Montgomery County said she and her son amassed a $10,000 bill of overdue tolls and fines. Goldfield said a family address change led to confusion in billing and contributed to the large expense, but she acknowledged allowing toll bills to accumulate.
“I’m guilty of it," Goldfield said. "And I’m living with the karma now.”
Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director Kevin Reigrut said the agency’s customer service representatives work with drivers who have amassed overdue bills and helps resolve problems with broken transponders and billing mistakes.
“For any customer — on a first time call to us — who says (he or she) didn’t get the bill notification in the mail, we will provide relief,” Reigrut said.
Reigrut said many of the 15,000 highway users who have amassed bills of more than $1,000 are “customers who never intended to pay the tolls they were receiving.”
“Somebody that has such a high balance knows they are using a toll facility, so they should've been expecting to see a bill in the mail,” Reigrut said.
Manno said his office has received a large number of complaints from Maryland drivers about the size of their Intercounty Connector toll bills since 2013, when the state stiffened the penalties for overdue payments.
“The drivers are in collections, they're in foreclosure and in some sort of economic morass because of the system that's in place,"Manno said. "It needs to end.”
Tips from Maryland Transportation Authority for how to prepare to call customer service (1-888-321-6824) to dispute or settle late fees:
“We would ask that customers to be prepared to have as much of the following information available as possible when they call:
- Phone Number
- Email Address
- Are you the account holder? If no, what is the name on the E-ZPass Account or Notice of Toll Due/Citation?
- What is the E-ZPass Account or Transponder number?
- What is the Notice of Toll Due or Citation Number?
- What License Plate(s) are listed on the Account?
- Do you have an MVA flag or Central Collections Unit (CCU) number?
- Be prepared to provide a description of the issue.
- Have you spoken with anyone to date about this issue? If yes, who?
- Have you recently moved? If yes, did you update this information with MVA, USPS and E-ZPass Maryland?
- Have you recently received a new credit card or credit card expiration date? If yes, did you update this information with E-ZPass Maryland?
- Did you receive a Notice of Toll Due in the mail?
Being prepared with this information will help customer-service reps help the customer quickly and efficiently.”
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Tolleah Price, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.