OCEAN CITY – Maryland residents and visitors surprisingly whacked with exorbitant bills from using the state’s tolled facilities, including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, for example, will have a grace period to catch up, state transportation officials decided last week.
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state quickly went overnight to a cashless system for tolls on bridges and tunnels, for example, and relied on the E-ZPass system to record and collect the fees. From March 2020 to October 2020, those who went through tolls without an E-ZPass device were not billed because of the pandemic.
Now, those bills are coming due for many Marylanders and visitors to the state, often with exorbitant late fees and penalties often totaling thousands of dollars. The issue particularly hits close to home for many visitors to Ocean City and Delaware resorts who use the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bay Bridge – or more commonly known as the Bay Bridge – or to visit the Eastern Shore or commute to meetings or appointments on the opposite side of the bay.
With a steep backlog of late billing, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) has recently started sending out bills for drivers who have used tolled facilities during the pandemic and have not yet paid their bills. In many cases, the bills state residents and visitors are receiving have gone up exponentially. For example, a simple $2 toll quickly turns into $25, and with daily fees and late payment tacked on, a simple crossing of the Bay Bridge has turned into hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has urged MDTA officials to provide relief for Maryland visitors and residents from the exorbitant toll fees and penalties and urged the agency to stall collection activity until the year-long backlog can be cleared up. There are also a couple of bills circulating in the Maryland General Assembly to correct the issue, most notably a bill co-sponsored by State Senator Steve Hershey (R-36), who represents a district on the east side of the Bay Bridge.
Last week, the MDTA Board of Directors voted to approve, effective immediately, a civil penalty waiver grace period for toll billing during the pandemic. The grace period went into effect last Thursday and remains in place until November 30.
“The deferral of toll bills during the pandemic protected Marylanders from hardship during one of the greatest health and economic emergencies of our lifetimes, but we realize paying off those bills can now be a challenge for many families,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary James Ports Jr., who serves as the MDTA Board Chairman. “The customer assistance plan approved today [last Thursday] by the MDTA Board responds to Governor Hogan’s request, as well as our customers’ requests, to explore relief options. The plan gives Marylanders plenty of time, more than nine months, to pay toll bills without having to worry about additional penalties or other consequences.”
The customer assistance plan approved by the MDTA board immediately discontinues referrals of toll bills to the state’s Central Collection Agency, establishes a civil penalty waiver grace period for all customers who pay unpaid toll bills by November 30, works with the MDTA’s toll vendor to increase the number of customer service agents to reduce call and web chat wait times, and works with the vendor to explore a payment plan opportunity for those whose $2 bill went to hundreds, or thousands, of dollars.
“Our entire MDTA team is committed to assisting Marylanders, commuters and visitors who use our toll roads, bridges and tunnels,” said MDTA Acting Executive Director Will Pines. “The new customer assistance plan will provide people with more time and less worry as they emerge from another financial impact of the pandemic.”