Flaw exposed in new toll road billing system

February 10, 2012 8:24:39 AM PST
It's been more than a month since North Carolina's first toll road connecting Highways 540 and 147 between Durham and Wake counties opened.

The road doesn't use traditional toll plazas. Instead, a high tech system called NC Quick Pass scans electronic transponders or takes pictures of license plates to bill drivers for use of the highway.

By the numbers, the toll road is already successful.

"We're still smashing what our projections were," said Barry Mickle, with the Turnpike Authority. "Transponders have exceeded all expectations by a lot. Traffic on the road - 5,300 weekday customers."

But the Turnpike Authority admits the billing system isn't foolproof.

"Such as keying in the license plates wrong or the system picking up an incorrect license plate," said Mickle.

And some have questioned how efficient the system is when bills have been sent for amounts that are less than the cost of sending the bill.

"It's ridiculous," said Apex resident Shirley Clayton.

Clayton told ABC11 she got a bill in the mail for 77 cents. The postage was 35 cents.

"And then the paper, and the ink, and the person employed, the technology," said Clayton.

The Turnpike Authority told ABC11 it costs less than 50 cents to send out a bill. And some bills have gone out for less than that. That means it is literally costing the state money to charge some drivers for using the new road.

"I'm pretty angry about it, because I feel it's money that is not spent well," said Clayton.

Mickle said it's very rare that a bill goes out for an amount that's less than the cost of sending a bill. He said the average bill has been over $3, and as new portions of the toll road open up, that average will go up. What's more, he said it's about fairness.

"To keep it fair, everyone has to pay and you're right, for that anomaly, sometimes it doesn't make sense," said Mickle.

Mickle said, so far, the toll road has brought in about $130,000 and another $50,000 is still owed. He said that's more than the Turnpike Authority expected little over one month in.

The next portion of the toll road, which will take Highway 540 down to the south down in Apex, is set to open in August.

As for the cost of mailing out the bills, that's not paid for with taxpayer dollars. It's paid for out of revenue collected from tolls.

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