Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comment from an individual on the toll violator list.
With $27 million in unpaid tolls, the Texas Department of Transportation has taken advantage of new state legislation that allows it to publicly release the names of toll violators, posting the names of the top 25 toll scofflaws on its website Thursday morning.
“Allowing these drivers to get away with not paying their tolls is not fair to the tens of thousands of law-abiding taxpayers who pay their toll bills on time,” TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said. “These toll violators are effectively stealing from the state and the citizens of Texas. We at TxDOT have an obligation to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, so we are grateful to the Legislature for giving us this new authority.”
Among the top 25 toll offenders, amounts owed range from $236,026.32 to $82,297.26, and the number of unpaid tolls varied from 14,358 to 3,604.
Beyer said TxDOT plans to maintain a list of at least the top 25 offenders on its website, though that could increase to 50. She said violators' names can be removed from the list if they pay their tolls immediately or contact TxDOT to arrange a payment plan.
A 50-cent toll can jump to $448.50 if it is unpaid for 202 days, over which time the toll violator would receive at least two bills and a violation notice. If the toll remains unpaid, the case would be submitted to collections and the court system during that period.
Beyer said additional notices are often sent and efforts are made to contact violators via telephone. She said the top violator received 44 invoices and 142 violation notices, along with a recent “heads up” letter informing the driver that their name would be published on the list if they did not pay by noon on Wednesday.
Judy Blundell, of Taylor, owes $141,755.21 on 5,952 toll violations, according to the list. She said the violations stemmed from her son’s car, which is in her name. She said he drove it to high school in Austin for from 2009 and 2011, racking up the toll violations.
Blundell said she tried to work with a debt collector hired by TxDOT in 2011 and found inaccuracies in what the agency said she owed.
“They had so many false tolls on my son’s Jeep, and this is going back several years,” Blundell said. “When I went in to try to pay them, they showed me images of flash photos that were not of any car that we own.”
Blundell said she worked out the inaccuracies and established a payment plan that she handed off to her son when he turned 18, about two years ago. She said she hasn’t heard from TxDOT since then.
“It just seems to me that there is a lot of disorganization,” Blundell said. “I mean, if TxDOT has a big bill for me, they ought to send it to me, because the ones that I get just sort of are monthlies for my personal car, and those I take care of. Before they put my name on the list, they should probably verify that their facts are right.”
TxDOT received permission to make the names of violators public with the passage of Senate Bill 1792 in June. The bill also allows TxDOT to ban certain vehicles from using toll roads with Texas Transportation Commission approval and to report habitual violators to county tax assessor-collectors to potentially block the renewal of the vehicles’ registration.
Beyer said TxDOT plans to use all of its new authority.
“Publishing names, banning drivers from TxDOT toll roads and working with the tax assessor’s office to possibly block a driver’s vehicle registration should get top toll violators to pay up,” Beyer said. “If not, they won’t be able to drive their car legally.”
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who authored the bill, said it allows transportation agencies to enforce the law in a reasonable way.
“We can't create a situation where the rest of us have to cover the costs that others run up on our roads,” Watson said in a statement. "My legislation simply allows transportation agencies to enforce the law in a reasonable way when people are repeatedly, habitually and intentionally violating it by passing their costs onto the rest of us."