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For Whom the Toll Tolls

Dec 2, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 12 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook will readily confess to avoiding toll roads when possible. Sure, they are usually convenient, faster than other routes, and less crowded, but paying for the privilege makes the “open road” seem, well, less open. But when we have to, we grudgingly reach in our change tray like everyone else. Well, maybe not everyone else. 

In The Scrapbook’s backyard, Virginia resident and toll scofflaw Jason Bourcier was taken to court recently by the state’s department of transportation, seeking to recover an astonishing $202,000. The sum was the outstanding debt owed on $440 of unpaid tolls on the Dulles airport access road. On the face of it, the sum sounds outrageous, but it’s not arbitrary. 

If every Dick and Jane knew they could cheat the tollbooths with impunity, then nobody would pay tolls and the system would cease to work. And Mr. Bourcier, it turned out, had skipped on tolls for three and a half years. Each incident carries, besides the toll itself, a $25 administrative fee, which makes sense. The cameras aren’t going to watch themselves, and the paperwork must be completed by a human. Virginia law also stipulates an escalating penalty scheme to discourage noncompliance: $50 for the first offense, rising to $500 per incident for the fourth and future offenses, provided they occur within three years of the second offense.

Even so, The Scrapbook’s inner anarchist still felt a twinge of sympathy—until we read an interview of the scofflaw in USA Today:

After a month, he says he got a bill for $50 in unpaid tolls, plus $1,200 in administrative fees. “I went to .  .  . try to negotiate that [fee] down. They would only come down to $800. I didn’t want to pay $800.”

Ordering an E-ZPass transponder and tying it to a credit card would have been far cheaper. Even more astonishing: Bourcier is a financial adviser, so we were surprised at his logic for continuing to skirt the law:

“I thought I had to push them to the point where they’re going to come to some kind of agreement with me to fix this.” 

Bourcier’s lawyer was able to negotiate a settlement. Instead of $202,000, he has agreed to pay $96,498. Roughly $150 a month for the next 54 years. 

As more and more communities consider using toll roads in lieu of traditional freeways, The Scrapbook shares this tale as a reminder that when it comes to toll roads, you always have to pay the piper.

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