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South Bay toll stations disconnected for months, SANDAG loses $1.8M

Tipster reports toll station shut downs to auditor on SANDAG website.

CHULA VISTA, Calif. — The San Diego Association of Governments, lost $1.8 million in toll revenue last year after a contractor disconnected toll equipment along State Route 125.

A tip to the agency's independent auditor through the SANDAG website revealed the toll sensors were disabled for three months last year.

“During June, July and August, four toll pay entries were intentionally unplugged,” said auditor Mary Khoshmashrab, during a SANDAG audit committee meeting on April 8.

“It wasn't that just they got unplugged. It was that they got unplugged, and they went unnoticed as far as the revenue impact of that, which means there was a procedure missing that should have been there, which is to review reports on a daily basis,” said Khoshmashrab.

The auditor’s investigation, first reported by San Diego’s inewsource, estimated the government agency lost $1.8 million in revenue.

SANDAG’s Chief Economist, Ray Major, told the audit committee that a contractor shut down the toll readers so they could borrow parts to repair other malfunctioning toll readers.

“The system there should have been replaced back in 2007. It's literally falling apart. And so, what they're doing is cannibalizing certain points, pay points and taking parts and trying to get other ones working,” Major told the committee. “They're actually on eBay buying LED lights from China to solder back into the signs to make them work.”

The toll reading technology on State Route 125 is set to be replaced by the end of May, Major said.

It's the second time that SANDAG’s Independent Performance Auditor has discovered a lack of control over taxpayer money.

Last month, the independent auditor reported out of control spending by SANDAG managers, using SANDAG credit cards, at local restaurants with missing receipts and unapproved purchases.

SANDAG board members are working on approving new policies to prevent future spending problems with the agency's purchasing credit cards.

Regarding the shutdown toll readers, SANDAG CEO Hasan Ikhrata said at a February board meeting that the contractor is to blame.

“Our contractor is liable and we're going to seek damages from that consultant,” Ikhrata told the SANDAG board.

Ikhrata admitted during the same meeting that senior SANDAG managers found out about the revenue loss months ago and failed to inform the SANDAG board.

“I take full responsibility for any screw-up like this,” Ikhrata said. “This is why having an independent performance auditor for the agency is so important and so critical.”

The auditor presented her findings from the toll shutdown investigation at the SANDAG board meeting on Friday, April 22.

The auditor found that SANDAG had no daily, weekly or monthly reports on toll revenue. She believes if they did, staff would have been alerted much earlier to the issue.

SANDAG still owes $180 million in bond debt on State Route 125, Major said.

There is a bill pending in Sacramento that would allow refinancing of that debt to get rid of the toll booths by 2027.

WATCH RELATED: Audit: SANDAG improperly used credit cards to spend taxpayer money (March 2022)

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