Deputies crack down on Katy Toll Road cheaters

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by Jeff McShan / 11 News

khou.com

Posted on September 29, 2010 at 11:34 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 30 at 2:43 PM

HOUSTON -- In recent weeks, the Toll Road Authority has discovered many single drivers are avoiding the toll on the Katy Freeway by slipping into the the HOV lane where the EZ-Tag cameras don't record their trip.  Harris County says that is costing them thousands of dollars a day.

"It really upsets those people that are paying their toll and they're going downtown like they are supposed to and they're seeing people out here constantly cheating the system," said Cpt. Terry Albritton with Harris County Precinct 5.

There are strict rules in place for the two inside lanes of the Katy Freeway. One is a toll for EZ-Tag drivers, and the other is an HOV lane. It is only to be used by vehicles with two or more people inside.

"And they'll jump into the HOV lane to try to save a dollar or two on their way downtown,"  Albritton said.

Precinct 5 conducted a sting operation in which one investigator would sit up the freeway a bit and watch drivers through a pair of binoculars. When a single driver was found in the HOV lane trying to avoid the toll, the investigator would describe the vehicle over the police radio, and the driver would be forced to pull over.

"You are receiving a citation for failure to pay toll since you were in the wrong lane. I need to ask you a few questions," said one deputy working Wednesday morning.

There was a steady stream of violators found.

"The inside lane is HOV only. Do you have your insurance card with you?" a deputy asked the driver.

The Katy Freeway Managed Lanes are obviously designed to move motorists quickly, so when the Toll Road Authority conducts a sting operation, it tries to do it as efficiently as possible. But sometimes there are backups.

"Our challenge out here is to balance mobility with enforcement," Albritton said. "We think this method we use here seems to work best."

11 News saw a lot of drivers who were upset about the slowdown, and that's why the Toll Road Authority wanted us to get the message out about what is happening out here.

"And you wont see us out here every day doing this. We will come out here and do spot enforcement because, like I said earlier, we are not trying to make people late to work in the morning," said Albritton.

From the suburbs to downtown and back costs $8 a vehicle. One morning, in just a little over an hour, police said approximately 200 cars cheated the system. It all adds up.

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