Few violators pay Dulles Toll Road fines

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Photo - A toll booth collector works at the main toll plaza on the Dulles Toll Road in Northern Virginia on April 19, 2006. Original: Andrew Harnik/Examiner
A toll booth collector works at the main toll plaza on the Dulles Toll Road in Northern Virginia on April 19, 2006. Original: Andrew Harnik/Examiner
Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

More than a million violations on the Dulles Toll Road last year never resulted in a ticket being issued, The Washington Examiner has learned.

The road, operated by the beleaguered Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, recorded nearly 100 million tolls paid in the last calendar year, earning the authority -- and the Dulles Rail project that the authority pays for -- more than $100 million in gross revenue.

But 1.1 million times, the road recorded a violation -- a car or truck getting through without paying. Despite more than a million recorded violations, only 95,269 people got tickets in the mail -- meaning that fewer than one of every 10 violators ever received a ticket.

Dulles Toll Road, by the numbers
Number of tolls paid in 2012: 99,113,990
Violations: 1,140,282
Tickets issued: 95,269
Tickets paid: 21,679

And of those tickets issued, only 21,679 were paid through the mail, with a small additional number paying a fine in court.

Authority spokesman Rob Yingling said those 1 million violations were cases in which equipment glitches caused errors, paying drivers zoomed away before the signal changed, or travelers passed through a closed lane before workers could block it with a cone. Yingling said the violation rate -- slightly more than 1 percent of all transactions -- was low compared with other toll roads'.

The authority doesn't track how much money may have been lost as a result of the unticketed violations. The Examiner calculated that the violations could be worth more than $1 million -- assuming that about half the violations skipped a heftier main plaza fee of $1.50 and half skipped a ramp fee of $0.75 in 2012.

That revenue is key to paying for the new Silver Line, especially the second half stretching from Reston to Loudoun County, which is 75 percent funded by toll road revenue.

"If you look at the industry as a whole, [the violation rate] is low, but we're not happy with that. We're looking at any number of options where we can get a higher rate of return," said authority board member Tom Davis. "Every dollar we get goes toward paying for rail and is a dollar less [drivers] have to pay for tolls."

Davis said the authority doesn't have the funds to pay for monitors who can give change on the tolled ramps past 9:30 p.m., which leads to violations, he said.

"There's not any one answer. This is a leakage from a number of different areas," he said.

Of the 95,269 drivers who received tickets in 2012 -- some of them for multiple violations -- 21,679 paid more than $860,000, including their tolls and fees ranging from $12.50 to $25 per toll.

Ticketed violators who refused to pay were handed off to Virginia courts, which awarded the authority about $54,000 in 2012, Yingling said. That would be equal to 1,991 tickets being paid at the rate of $27.25 -- the standard fine for failing to pay the original ticket.

An airports authority auditor reported earlier this year that the authority doesn't receive any information from its toll road contractor on "violations that were dismissed without payment" -- with little explanation of what that meant. Yingling said he could not comment on the details of an internal audit.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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