SAN DIEGO–The SANDAG Board of Directors approved the reinstatement of State Route 125 toll violations starting January 5, 2021.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic impacts, the Board of Directors approved waiving all toll violations on the South Bay Expressway in April 2020, including the practice of placing vehicle registration holds for non-payment of violations. 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 SANDAG Chair and Poway Mayor Steve Vaus. “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 timeframe to use Pay-by-Plate to pay a toll before receiving a violation will extend from the standard four-day period to ten days
- The timeframe to pay a violation will extend from 30 days to 60 days
“The long-range goal is to eliminate the tolls a hundred percent,” said Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas at Friday’s SANDAG Board meeting. “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 a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act 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 1.50x (revenues must equal 1.50 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, has led to a 31% decrease in total SR 125 revenues through Q1 of FY 2021. 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 Coverage Ratio by the year’s end. If SANDAG were to fail to meet the Debt Service Coverage 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.
To improve the prospect of meeting the SR 125 bond covenants, and because the duration of the stay home order is unknown, staff recommended reinstating SR 125 toll violations and resuming the practice of placing vehicle registration holds with the California Department of Motor Vehicles for overdue tolls. Registered vehicle owners that receive a toll violation for the first time would continue to be eligible for a waiver of penalties.
The South Bay Expressway is a ten-mile stretch of SR 125 that runs through eastern Chula Vista between Otay Mesa Road and SR 54 in Spring Valley. Tolls range from $0.50 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 and who do not stop to pay their toll will have ten days to pay, using their license plate via phone, mail, or web. Outstanding tolls will accrue an initial $40 violation plus the toll. Motorists can view toll rates and use Pay-by-Plate at sbxthe125.com.
The South Bay Expressway is operated by SANDAG and has seen increased use since SANDAG acquired the toll road. Within months of the purchase, the SANDAG Board of Directors strategically lowered toll rates up to 40 percent to relieve traffic congestion on arterial roads in eastern Chula Vista and on the southern portion of I-805, making it possible to forego widening of a portion of I-805.
SANDAG operates the toll road under a Development Franchise Agreement with Caltrans through November 2042.