House passes ‘gateless tolling’ for Kansas Turnpike

Traffic passes through KTA toll booth at the Lecompton interchange on I-70 Wednesday, Dec., 2, 2015.

? The Kansas House narrowly passed a bill Wednesday that would pave the way toward “gateless” tolling on the Kansas Turnpike, a system that would automatically bill motorists who pass through toll booths without paying.

The bill initially failed on a final action by a 61-61 vote. But later in the day, the House agreed to a motion to reconsider that vote, and on a second vote it passed 63-54. It takes 63 yes votes to pass legislation out of the House.

Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, who supported the bill, argued that it would modernize the Turnpike system in a way that many other states, including Oklahoma and Texas, have done.

Under the plan, Turnpike gates would be equipped with cameras that would take pictures of the license plates of vehicles that pass through the gates without paying. The owners of those vehicles would then be sent a bill for the Turnpike tolls.

However, whenever a driver lets a bill add up to $100 or more, the Turnpike Authority would notify the county treasurer in the county where that vehicle is registered, and the owner would not be allowed to renew a vehicle registration until the bill was paid.

The bill also provides that 15 percent of the money collected through the program would go to county treasurers to offset their costs for enforcing the vehicle registration freezes.

The bill initially would authorize those mechanisms at the three highest-volume toll points on the Turnpike: the east terminal outside of Kansas City; the southern terminal at the Oklahoma border; and the East Topeka terminal where Interstate 70 connects to the Turnpike.

Turnpike officials argued that it would address an important safety issue. Whenever someone inadvertently gets in a K-Tag lane but doesn’t have a K-Tag transponder, traffic becomes tied up in that lane and toll booth workers have to walk across lanes of traffic to collect the toll or take down the driver’s license information.

Sloan argued that there was also an equity issue involved.

“If you’ve got a K-Tag and you’re running through the lane, you’ve paid to use the road,” he said. “People who aren’t paying are effectively abusing you.”

Some opponents, however, argued that it would be too difficult to enforce on out-of-state motorists, and it would penalize the owners of vehicles even if they weren’t the ones driving through a Turnpike gate without paying.

Johnson County Treasurer Thomas Franzen also had contacted lawmakers urging them to oppose the bill, arguing that it would put too much burden on local treasurer offices and cause longer lines in vehicle registration departments while clerks work with vehicle owners to resolve their bills.