THE FAST LANE — We are all zipping along the EZ Tag lanes where the signs clearly state two passengers or more. Odd. It seems the car ahead of me has only one person. Maybe his passenger is in the glove compartment, or more probably that driver is yet another scofflaw. Notice those cars usually sport a 100 Club decal on their windshield. They believe in law ‘n’ order, but the law is for other people.
Maybe we shall see an end to this type of mouth-breather, but I doubt it. TxDOT is about to enforce a new law our beloved state legislators passed: The agency is writing the 28,000 people who have amassed more than 100 violations within a year and owe more than $27 million in tolls on state-maintained tollways. The letters say to pay their fees, otherwise they’ll be publicly outed when the agency lists its chronic violators online. The hope is that shame will get many to clean up their acts, legislators said.
Besides putting their names online, the department will also ban serial violators from state-maintained toll roads, and banned vehicles caught on the toll roads could be impounded and the driver ticketed. This info may be turned over to county tax assessors, who in some counties — like Harris — can block vehicle registration renewal until the debt is paid.
This is rather mind-boggling on two fronts. First, we have 28,000 of our fellow Texans who have amassed more than 100 violations just in the last year (in some cases, officials said, violators have amassed thousands of unpaid trips) and owe ;more than $27 million. Texas has always attracted outlaws, con artists and Yankees (is that redundant?), but this is ridiculous. And if you have run up any number of violations in less than the last 12 months, no problem. Same if you only have 99 violations. The second astounding fact is that no one has done anything about the problem until now. What does it take around here to get the law enforced?
Once I got a hot rocket from the tollway people saying I owed them my first born and my season tickets to ATF raids because I had gone through a tollway checkpoint with a false license plate. Turns out it was my fault — the state issues new car plates to vehicles every 20 years and I neglected to tell the tollway folks I had different plates. This didn’t happen when I was driving getaway cars.
Actually, the violation situation is probably worse because these numbers do not include those scofflaws on toll roads maintained by the Harris County Toll Road Authority or the Metropolitan Transit Authority which operate toll roads in the Houston area. TxDOT owns the Katy Managed Lanes along Interstate 10 West, but its first state-maintained tollway in the Houston area will be the section of the Grand Parkway between I-10 and U.S. 290, scheduled to open in December. On the other hand, massive violations in the Houston area are held down because the Harris County Toll Road Authority works closely with county law enforcement and the tax assessor. In the Dallas area, a regional agency, the North Texas Tollway Authority, manages tollways and has problems enforcing repeated violations. (Amber Young of Dallas held the top spot owing $179,596.43 for a reported 8,366 toll violations.) Thus Houston’s number of violators is about one-fifth the number reported in the Dallas area.