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The road less traveled: Cost of using tolls without tag

Most Texas tolls require prepaid, electronic tag

SAN ANTONIO – If you're traveling through a major Texas city during spring break, you may encounter toll roads offering quicker and more convenient routes. However, most now require prepaid, electronic toll tags.

David Brockhouse said his last trip to Conroe left him with a hefty TxTAG bill from the Texas Department of Transportation.

"Buyer beware," Brockhouse said. "There's a highway robbery going on right now."

The man known as Pastor Dave to many recently traveled to the Houston area to visit a fellow pastor and church member.

"The GPS in my car said that I should take Route 99," Brockhouse said.

Better known as State Highway 99 or Grand Parkway, the route is a toll road. That was news to Brockhouse, who didn't realize it was a toll road until three or four miles in.

The portion Brockhouse traveled is managed by TxDOT. Drivers must have one of the following four electronic toll tags to use it: TxTAG, EZ TAG, TollTag or METRO HOT. Those who don't have a tag pay a higher cost for the convenience.

"The bill was actually $15 and some cents but the fees were $60," Brockhouse said.

His TxTAG statement included 12 violation fees at $5 each.

TxDOT spokeswoman Becky Ozuna said the agency charges violation fees for all of the toll roads it manages.

The two other toll road authorities in the Houston area, Harris County Toll Road Authority and Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority, tack on higher rates and costs for those who don't have an electronic tag.

HCTRA spokeswoman Patti Evans said in an email to KSAT that Harris County toll violation invoices are mailed upon the third occurrence of a toll violation within a 365-day period, which means drivers must violate three times before the agency bills them. The invoice includes the cost of three unpaid/missed tolls, a $10 administrative fee for each toll violation and $1 county attorney fee per toll violation.

Evans also said HCTRA has a toll violation waiver/fee reduction policy that is intended to grant drivers a reasonable reprieve of violation fees for common mistakes such as forgetting to update license plate information, or unfamiliarity with the roadway. Violation fees can be waived once in a 365-day period under the policy.

FBCTRA's website shows a $5 administrative fee for each toll violation.

Toll roads in the state of Texas are managed by TxDOT, regional mobility authorities or county toll road authorities.

As for Brockhouse, he wishes information was better distributed to people who don't live in areas with toll roads or aren't familiar with them. The pastor says a TxDOT customer service representative mentioned discounted toll bills for people who sign up for TxTAG and set up auto pay.