Toll evaders, it's time to pay up.
The first batch of 700 civil penalty notices for people who have avoided paying for their tolls under the new state tolling system are being sent out this week, reported the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Registered vehicle owners have 80 days to pay their tolls, or they will receive civil penalty notices, which are part of the state’s new enforcement process to help collect overdue toll bills accrued after crossing the Tacoma Narrows and State Route 520 bridges.
The civil penalty includes the initial toll amount (which would be a higher toll than it would be for a car registered under a Good-to-Go account), a $5 reprocessing fee for each reminder bill plus a $40 civil penalty for each unpaid toll transaction.
That can add up to $45 for each crossing, on top of each toll amount.
Registered vehicle owners who get a notice will have up to 20 days to respond to WSDOT with payment or to dispute the civil penalty, according to the state. Those who continue to ignore the penalities and tolls face a hold being put on their vehicle registration and the bill being sent to collections.
“The new process strengthens one of the main reasons we’re tolling these bridges—to pay for them. This effort allows us to put collected tolls, fees and penalties back into each bridge program," Craig Stone, WSDOT's toll division director, said in a prepared statement.
It's been more than 80 days since the new toll system was implemented for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on Dec. 3 and on the .
The first batch of notices consist of those who crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and did not pay a toll at the time with Good-to-Go, and did not respond to bills sent to their homes, Stone said, because the new system started several weeks earlier than on 520. The next batch of 1,000 notices will include those who crossed the 520 Bridge and did not pay their tolls, he said.
The number of people who will be sent a civil penalty comes to about a half a percent of motorists who have crossed, he said. About 9 million transactions have taken place on 520 and Tacoma Narrows since the new system started.
The biggest accumulated penalty was for someone who crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge six times without paying—which would add up to $240 in penalties and $30 in bills on top of the toll amount owed, Stone said.
The penalty notice includes a photo of the license plate for each unpaid toll and lists the date, time and location of each bridge crossing. Vehicle owners who receive a notice should carefully follow instructions to pay or dispute the toll. Vehicle owners may request a hearing with a state administrative law judge who presides over WSDOT’s toll enforcement hearings.
Hearings will take place at a public court in Fife or at the Good To Go! Customer Service Center off I-5 in north Seattle. Unlike traffic court, this process does not allow toll enforcement judges to reduce penalty amounts or unpaid toll amounts owed—they make a judgment on whether the vehicle crossed the bridge and that the penalty notice names the vehicle’s legal owner, according to the state.
Registered vehicle owners found liable then have 10 days to pay the tolls and all accrued fees and penalties. If the tolls, fees and penalties remain unpaid after this time, a hold will be placed on the vehicle’s license renewal and the debt is sent to collections, according to the state.
Drivers from out of state who ignore the bills and penalty notices don't get away, said Lucinda Broussard, tolls operations manager at WSDOT
"We can go to the collections agencies with this debt," she said.