It costs only a quarter to legally pass through the Midlothian Turnpike toll on the Powhite Parkway, but it will cost Victor Wine 2,020 quarters to pay off the fines he's accrued running through it. For the $5 in tolls he skipped paying in the summer, he owes $500 in additional fines.
Wine teaches evening classes at the Medical Careers College on the South Side. He typically passes through the toll around 10:30 p.m. on his way home to Church Hill. There aren't toll takers staffing the booths at that late hour, he says, "and I refuse to drop a $10 bill in the basket." Though he acknowledges, at this point, it would have been cheaper.
Over the summer, skipping the toll became something of a habit. He ran the booth 20 times in June and July. Wine received a notice prior to the $505 bill, but says that because he goes through the booths at night, the same attendants who aren't there to make change aren't there to direct him to a customer-service outlet.
A letter he received last week from the Virginia Department of Transportation -- complete with a black-and-white photo of his black Honda Passport taken by an automated camera at the booth announces his debt: $5 in unpaid tolls, $500 in fines.
"I teach muscular skeletal anatomy," Wine says, "at least I'm smart enough to know when there's bullshit."
Dismayed at the "injustice" of a fine 100 times the cost of the infraction, Wine may be out of luck. Shannon Marshall, a spokeswoman for VDOT, which operates the toll, says that if violators fail to pay the toll and ignore their first notification, a $25 fee is added to each infraction.
In the event that a driver realizes too late that they are changeless, Marshall advises calling a toll-free customer service number. That's not listed on any tollbooth sign, though she says such signage is on the way. Furthermore, she says, there are signs announcing the toll's full-service hours, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., giving drivers ample opportunity to consider alternative routes.
What does Wine think about her argument for non-toll road travel?
"I just give a blank look," he replies. S