Board reinstates free toll roads for qualifying veterans

Published on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 23:12 - Written by By Adam Russell arussell@tylerpaper.com

Earlier this year, Navy veteran Robert Johnson was surprised by toll bills from driving on Toll 49 after using the road free of charge for months.

Johnson had been driving the road without charge because he qualified for free passage on state-controlled tollways.

In 2010, legislators enacted legislation to give free or discounted tolls to disabled veterans and recipients of a Purple Heart or Congressional Medal of Honor. Johnson is a Purple Heart recipient.

The Texas Department of Transportation managed Toll 49 until March and exempted qualifying veterans from tolls. But the transfer of toll collection and management to the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority left veterans receiving bills for tolls.

Johnson began receiving bills after the transition. He went through months of back-and-forth communication with TxDOT and the NETRMA, trying to rectify what he believed to be a mistake.

“I couldn’t understand what was going on and no one could give me answers,” he said.

Johnson wasn’t the only veteran surprised by the bills after months of driving Toll 49 without charge.

By August, the NETRMA board approved a resolution to allow qualifying veterans on the toll road for free. Tolls are exempted for TxTags, which are issued by TxDOT, only. The NETRMA does not have an agreement with other toll agencies and cannot discount tolls for tags issued by other toll authorities, including the North Texas Tollway Authority.

Johnson received notification from the NETRMA on Dec. 2 stating that his tolls were being dismissed. He now can access Toll 49 free of charge.

“The board decided we didn’t want to take anything away from veterans,” said Everett Owen, NETRMA interim director. “They enjoyed the benefit from the state and we wanted to extend that to veterans under our management.”

Johnson is happy the board made the decision to reinstate the exemption for qualifying veterans and said he wants more veterans to know about the benefit.

Marshal Joslin, Smith County Veterans Services officer, said he received a few calls from veterans complaining about charges in the past.

He said opening the toll road to disabled veterans will help because many travel to Tyler for benefits — and free access to the toll road could improve their trip.

“That’s good news,” he said. “That will make some people very happy.”

Owen said veterans’ vehicles may not be exempt within the billing system because it requires identifying individual license plates. When using the toll road, an image of the vehicle’s license plate is used to determine the registered owner and then bills are sent. The same process is used to determine if the person qualifies for the exemption.

Tolls may be dismissed after confirming that the license plate qualifies, and the license plate is entered into a database so no future bills are created for use on Toll 49. Municipal Services Bureau may be contacted about the exemption at 512-371-9995.