SAN DIEGO — State Route 125 toll violations will begin to be enforced Tuesday for the first time since the San Diego Association of Governments officially waived them in April in light of economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SANDAG Board of Directors voted late last month to approve reinstatement of SR-125 toll violations for the South Bay Expressway. Those tolls, along with the practice of placing vehicle registration holds for non-payment of violations, had been suspended for the remainder of 2021. FasTrak monthly maintenance fees were also suspended.
"As we ease back into the practice of issuing violations, we are keeping those most affected by the pandemic in mind," said then-SANDAG Chair Steve Vaus, who is the mayor of Poway. "While we recognize that we must keep moving forward to meet our financial obligations, we will continue to work with the public so that they have access to this critical South Bay connection."
As the reinstatement of toll violations begins, SANDAG will offer three temporary relief measures:
- The FasTrak account maintenance fee requiring minimum monthly toll usage will continue to be waived
- The time frame to use Pay-by-Plate to pay a toll before receiving a violation will extend from the standard four-day period to 10 days
- The time frame to pay a violation will extend from 30 days to 60 days.
"The long-range goal is to eliminate the tolls 100%," Chula Vista Mayor, and now SANDAG chair, Mary Salas said at the SANDAG board meeting in December. "But we have to do it in a way that we meet our obligations to pay down the debt service -- and with the suspension of violations, that's getting harder and harder to do."
In 2017, the board reduced the total debt service on SR-125 by refinancing an infrastructure loan through the sale of fixed-rate revenue bonds.
Among the financial requirements set forth in the bond covenants is maintenance of a debt-service coverage ratio of 1.5 times -- meaning, revenues must equal 1.5 times the amount of annual debt service after deducting operating expenses.
The suspension of toll violations -- as well as the reduction in traffic caused by the pandemic -- led to a 31% decrease in total SR-125 revenues through the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2021, SANDAG reported. Though traffic has begun to slowly recover since its low point in March 2020, revenues are not currently on track to meet the debt-service ratio by the year's end. If SANDAG were to fail to meet the ratio, the agency would be required by the bond covenants to hire an independent traffic and revenue consultant to develop a plan that would bring the coverage ratio back above the minimum threshold.
The South Bay Expressway is a 10-mile stretch of SR-125 that runs through eastern Chula Vista between Otay Mesa Road and State Route 54 in Spring Valley. Tolls range from 50 cents to $3.50 each way, depending on the distance covered and the use of FasTrak versus cash or credit.
Motorists who do not have a FasTrak account or who do not stop to pay their toll will have 10 days to pay using their license plate as an identifier. Outstanding tolls will accrue an initial $40 violation plus the toll. Motorists can view toll rates and use Pay-by-Plate at sbxthe125.com.