OGDEN — A bill awaiting only Gov. Gary Herbert’s signature before it becomes law would allow the transportation department to use cameras and other technology to catch and penalize Express Lane scofflaws.
The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, has received some attention because of a provision that would allow the Utah Transportation Commission to establish tollways on existing state highways, something that has required legislative approval.
But the bill would also allow the Utah Department of Transportation to use cameras, license plate readers and other technology to monitor toll systems and enforce penalties for violators.
If the bill passes, the new law would help UDOT better patrol its Interstate 15 Express Lanes system.
“What this does is modernize the tolling statutes we have to effectively electronically toll and to have a means to be able to collect the toll,” Niederhauser said during a Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology standing committee meeting.
The state’s Express Lane system is made of seven segments from Spanish Fork to Layton and allows carpoolers, buses, motorcycles, emergency vehicles and clean-fuel vehicles to use a dedicated lane on the left side of I-15.
Solo drivers can drive in the lane for a fee if space is available. UDOT collects those fees through an electronic payment system that charges drivers based on an algorithm that adjusts prices based on current traffic conditions — the thicker the traffic, the larger the fee.
Success of the system hinges on traffic flowing smoothly in the dedicated lane, despite congestion outside of it. But recently, traffic flow has been deteriorating at the busiest points of the system, mostly during evening commutes. The topic has been discussed at multiple transportation commission meetings over the past year.
Part of the problem is the high rate of solo motorists illegally using the system. Violators can be fined $337 and see the infraction go on their driving record, but right now the Utah Highway Patrol serves as the system’s only enforcement mechanism.
Niederhauser’s bill would allow the state to use the aforementioned technologies to monitor the lane and subsequently assess penalties for violators. Using license plate information, the state would mail bills to the homes of violators and could also request a hold on the registration of a vehicle if the owner has failed to pay the penalty.
During the committee meeting, UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras said the transportation department could legally keep personal information until tolls are collected, but once the debt has been paid, the department would be required to purge the information.
This year, UDOT will begin a project to add Express Lanes to I-15 in both directions between Hill Field Road in Layton and Interstate 84 in Riverdale. The $158 million project could take up to two years to complete.