Toll trouble in Leeville

Audit reveals Highway 1 toll system has resulted in approximately 300,000 uncollected tolls.

Every day, approximately 8,000 to 10,000 cars and trucks cross the new Leeville toll bridge on Louisiana Highway 1 in South Louisiana heading to or from Fourchon and Grand Isle.

But not all of those vehicles are paying the $2.50 round trip toll to cross from the mainland in Leeville, across Bayou Lafourche and onto Grand Isle. In fact, a report recently released by the state Legislative Auditor states that as many as 300,000 violation images remain unprocessed — and that another 39,700 known violators have not been sent notices to collect the unpaid tolls.

That’s not good, Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said.

“As of the beginning of Fiscal Year 2012, we have (approximately 300,000) pictures that have not been looked at,” Purpura said in a recent interview with Louisiana Sportsman. “That’s a considerable number that didn’t pay… There’s a lot of money that’s been left on the table.

“Any funds that aren’t being collected is a concern.”

The bridge was opened in 2009, and is a main artery for gas and oil operations. The Louisiana 1 Bridge also is used heavily by recreational and commercial fishermen who use Grand Isle as a launching point to the fertile marshes nearby, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.

The bridge was built at a cost of $365 million, and is dependent on toll revenue to finance payments for the structure. And, according to the report, part of the problem with the collections is the Geaux Pass electronic system that deducts tolls from a user’s bank account when his or her vehicle crosses the bridge.

A summary of the Legislative Auditor’s Report chalks up the problems in large part to “weaknesses in controls over toll and violation collections.” The summary listed weaknesses as including:

“(1) Geaux Pass account holders who had insufficient balances were allowed free passage until funds were added to their accounts.

“(2) Approximately 300,000 violation images remain unprocessed.

“(3) Violators have not received delinquency notices, which impairs the (Louisiana Transportation) Authority’s ability to collect violation fines and fees and places the Authority in noncompliance with state law.

“(4) Violations from out-of-state license plates remain unbilled through fiscal year 2012.

“(5) There is no function in place to request updated credit card information from Geaux Pass account holders.”

For its part, the state DOTD concurs with the findings, with the exception being the agency’s belief it has adequately filed delinquency notices for state violators.

“As of June 30, 2012, there was only one (Fiscal Year 2012) unbilled violation at (the Louisiana 1 Bridge) for a known Louisiana licensed violator,” DOTD Secretary Sherri Labas wrote in a Nov. 26 response to the auditor’s report. “This was a success. In previous years, there were many unbilled violations. FY12 is the first year that Louisiana 1 had only one unbilled violation, i.e., violations by Louisiana plates that are in the system pending mailing out notice to collect money owed. It does not include violations for out-of-state plates or the 300,000 in the administrative backlog. Because we mailed out those notices, we should be able to begin sending second notices for Louisiana 1 in November 2012.”

In the introduction to her letter to Purpera, LeBas also noted that improvements have been made and will continue to be made “in the part of the system that creates the violation notices, specifically working with the state’s Office of Motor Vehicles to ensure the accuracy of the registered owner of the vehicles is up to date.”

Also, she pointed out that a cash and charge machine “which allows for in-lane payment of toll fees was installed this summer and has already produced an increase in toll collections.”

DOTD corrective action measures for the remainder of the auditor’s findings are listed in the response as follows:

• “Geaux Pass accounts are modified to ensure that all toll transactions are properly charged against a valid Geaux Pass account, or a violation notice generated if funds were insufficient.”

• “All outstanding violation images are processed promptly and violators billed timely.”

• “Procedures are implemented to ensure that violation notices are mailed properly and proceed through the entire violation process timely and in accordance with state law.”

• “A process is developed to identify the registration details of out-of-state vehicles and timely bill those violators.”

• “An automatic or manual procedure to request updated credit card information and/or inform customers when the credit card transaction has been rejected.”

Purpera noted that it’s in everyone’s best interest that something proactive be done to correct mistakes that have been made in the bridge’s short history.

“If the bridge is intended to be self-supporting, then it has to be self-supporting,” he said.

The entire report can be found online at www.lla.state.la.us. Click on the “Audit Reports” link to view the report and the DOTD response.

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