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Toll enforcement fix will have to wait
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/15/2008 12:30 AM | Updated: 1/15/2008 10:04 AM

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Despite numerous calls for reform, tollway officials have no immediate plans to alter their violation enforcement system following a Daily Herald report that exposed flaws in it.

However, Tollway Director Brian McPartlin writes in a guest column in today's Daily Herald that the agency hopes for improvements in the coming months or years.

"We agree that it is in our customers' best interest to regularly review operations and improve accuracy, effectiveness and service, and we will continue those efforts," writes McPartlin.

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McPartlin takes issue with the tone of last week's report, which exposed holes in the system that slaps fines and drivers' license suspensions on alleged toll cheats. Experts said the flaws could trip up drivers who were not intentionally trying to evade paying and at the same time let blatant toll cheats off the hook.

The report revealed that:

• Enforcement cameras have trouble reading as many as 25 percent of Illinois license plates, increasing the chance of erroneous fines.

• A majority of cases appealed to the Illinois secretary of state have been thrown out, mostly because of flaws in how the tollway notifies alleged violators.

• A 13-month gap in sending out violation notices is now landing thousands of drivers in financial and legal trouble. Yet the tollway is not considering payment plans as it did with similar failures in 2003.

• The violation computer system is so dysfunctional, tollway officials have little idea how many people are cheating on tolls or how much money is owed.

Suburban lawmakers, good-government groups, the state truckers association and a national motorist group all called for reform as a result of the probe's findings.

Tollway officials say there are enough safeguards in the system to prevent large amounts of erroneous fines. They point to an appeals process and the tollway's imposition of penalties only after three recorded violations.

On another front, tollway officials are still working to fix computer problems that prevent them from knowing how many cars are not paying tolls or how much money the agency is owed.

The same computer problems, which occurred during a contractor switch, also led to a 13-month delay in sending out violation notices. Notices should normally go out within weeks after a motorist racks up three violations.

The problem is being worked on, said tollway spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis.

"That is something (the contractor) is working on on a daily basis," she said.