More than 20,000 people emailed the Virginia Department of Transportation about a proposal to charge a monthly $1 fee for E-ZPass accounts as of Tuesday, the last day to submit comments.
The agency says it needs the fee to meet the expected demand for the devices once the new Beltway Express lanes and other toll facilities open this year. VDOT expects it will need about 420,000 new E-ZPass transponders by March 2013 -- almost double the agency's current 560,000 accounts.
Fourteen other states, including Maryland, already charge monthly fees. Maryland charges $1.50 per month for E-ZPass maintenance. Drivers are known to shop between states for the best deal on the devices.
Virginia drivers currently pay no monthly maintenance fee, but they do pay a $25 security deposit for each transponder, unless they tie their E-ZPass accounts to their bank for automatic payments.
That security deposit would be eliminated if the new $1 fee is implemented. Drivers who already paid deposits would get the $25 back as credits toward their tolls.
Virginia officials are also weighing a plan to sell E-ZPass transponders at retailers like Target or Walmart, or in grocery stores or pharmacies for $35 in prepaid tolls.
The agency also plans to roll out a new type of transponder, the E-ZPass Flex, which will allow carpooling drivers to drive in express lanes for free.
Todd Huse, an E-ZPass user from Herndon, questioned why VDOT needs the additional revenue that the $1 fee would generate since the agency made $13.5 million in 2011 from E-ZPass transaction fees and interest, but only spent $10.7 million maintaining the program.
"It sounds like they just are jumping on board with the other 14 [state] agencies that do the same thing, as opposed to looking at the real numbers," Huse said. "This is now a tax to collect taxes. ... Nobody in an elected position has actually looked at this issue."