Help has arrived for a tollway backlog that has drivers hitting the boiling point, including one woman who faced violations totalling more than $50,000.
Under a "Spring Cleaning" amnesty program ending June 30, the Illinois Tollway is dropping the additional $50 escalation fine and will hold off on suspending violators' driver's licenses and plates.
When the tollway authority introduced the I-Pass sytem, two databases were kept: one for I-Pass users and one for violators. Problems arose when those two systems were merged, and some violation notices didn't go out for more than a year.
That's what happened Tracy Patterson, of Lisle, who said she never knew she'd fallen behind in her payments until the bills started showing up earlier this year.
As she explains it, the problem started more than two years ago when the credit card attached to her account was declined and the Tollway Authority switched her account to cash payment.
Despite her occassional payments, she said she never knew her balance was in the red because no one ever contacted her.
"Every time that I went and put cash on my account, no one ever made me aware of the fact that there was a negative balance on my account," Patterson said.
By January of this year, she'd racked up 715 unpaid tolls -- each carrying a $20 fine -- adding up to almost $15,000.
Under state law, drivers who have more than three violations, and who ignore repeated notices over 35 days, can be fined an additional $50 for each violation.
Patterson was one of more than a million people affected by a 13-month lapse in violation notifications to tollway users, and was able to settle her bill for the unpaid fines alone, a fine of $612.
"It's such a nightmare, I turned in my I-Pass, and I just pay cash now," Patterson said.
Anyone who received a notice of a toll violation before June 30 and has an outstanding balance is eligible to take part in the program. About 600,000 violation notices qualify for the program, the Tollway said.
Besides implementing the Spring Cleaning program, the Tollway also is planning rule changes, including letting drivers contest violations by mail and letting them view evidence of a violation online. The Tollway will also be required to notify drivers within 90 days of their third violation incurred within two years. No notice could be sent after 90 days.