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Indiana toll bridge violators could face hundreds in fines

Since installation of the automatic collection system, motorists who use the bridge are expected to set up an account with Wabash Pass and keep an electronic transponder attached to their vehicle's windshield. (The Trucker file photo)

By ZACH EVANS
The Associated Press

4/15/2013

MOUNT VERNON, Ind.  — A southwest Indiana prosecutor is working with the Indiana Department of Transportation to target habitual offenders who fail to pay tolls on the Wabash Memorial Toll Bridge that links Indiana 62 with Illinois 141 west of Mount Vernon.

It's the first time since toll booths staffed by employees were replaced with an automatic collection system in January 2011 that the county has hauled scofflaws into court. Some offenders have hundreds of dollars in unpaid tolls, said Posey County Prosecutor Travis Clowers.

Offenders have been sent multiple payment notices, including negative balance letters by certified mail, before being summoned to court, he said.

Since installation of the automatic collection system, motorists who use the bridge are expected to set up an account with Wabash Pass and keep an electronic transponder attached to their vehicle's windshield, said Will Wingfield with INDOT.

People load their Wabash Pass account with money, and toll charges are deducted every time they cross the bridge, he said.

The toll charge for cars to cross is 50 cents, 30 cents for motorcycles or bicycles, and $1.70 for six-axle trucks. The tolls haven't been increased since 1984, he said.

Drivers who cross the bridge and don't pay the toll are committing a Class C traffic infraction punishable by a fine of up to $220 and court costs, Wingfield said.

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In the last two years, however, a handful of motorists have racked up hundreds of dollars in unpaid tolls, prompting Clowers and his staff to zero in on the worst of the offenders.

"This is our first attempt at going after people with these infractions," Clowers told the Evansville Courier & Press.

The county is summoning 10 people to Posey County Traffic Court, Clowers said, with more to come in future months.

Violators may also have holds put on their vehicle registration, Wingfield said.

Wingfield said there are signs along the approach to the bridge advising drivers on how to pay the toll, so even if a motorist were traveling Indiana 62 or Illinois 141 for the first time, he would be instructed on how to proceed.

As a driver crosses the bridge, there is an electronic sign at the toll bridge that flashes several messages to motorists about the status of their account, including “Tag Inactive,” if a transponder tag is unreadable; a phone number to call if a traveler has standing violations or no account; and “Thank You,” if the toll was deducted from their account without incident.

Wingfield said INDOT used to send out notifications to users after 20 unpaid tolls. Now, the agency will send notification letters to users who don't have a Wabash Pass account, to those who don't have sufficient funds on their account or those with outstanding toll violations.

Since the New Harmony bridge closed last May, INDOT estimates the Wabash Memorial Toll Bridge has had a 5 percent increase in traffic.

Wingfield said more concrete numbers would be available once INDOT does a routine count later in the year. He noted, though, the I-64 bridge across the Wabash River is closer - and toll-free — for many people who would have previously used the New Harmony Bridge.

The tolls collected from travelers goes toward funding maintenance for the bridge and saving for its eventual replacement. The 57-year-old bridge, which opened in 1956, was designed to have a 75-year life span.

Jack Evans writes for the Evansville Courier & Press.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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