Vacationers shocked by toll charges from Colorado months after trip

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A family vacation to Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park seemed perfect, until a few months after the return home when a letter from an attorney arrived in the mail. It was a collection letter for $45 for two unpaid tolls on E-470 Highway, a road that circles most of Denver.

The letter stated that because the two $10.20 tolls had gone unpaid for months, there were now late fees and a $20 legal fee.

Lisa Ainsworth was shocked when her father, Tom Pearson, told her about the letter.

"I felt sorry for him," Ainsworth said. "Then I finally got through my stack of bills and I had the same thing."

It was from the same law firm. It wanted $35 for her trip on E-470, including late charges and fees. Her charge was $10 less than her father's because she had only made one trip on E-470, not two.

Ainsworth and Pearson said they never realized E-470 was still a toll road because when they drove it, the toll booths were being torn down.

"We didn't see anyone there to take money or issue a ticket or anything," Ainsworth recalled.

What she didn't realize was that her license plate was captured electronically, and the E-470 Highway Authority sends out bills in the mail. But Ainsworth said she never got a bill. Pearson said neither did he.

Ainsworth called the E-470 Highway Authority, a quasi-public agency, to complain. It insisted she and Pearson had been sent multiple statements, and with each notice, the $10.20 toll increased by $5.

When Ainsworth insisted to the Authority that she shouldn't have to pay the late charges, since she never got the original notice, a customer service agent for the Authority told her there was nothing she could do and Ainsworth should check with her local post office to find out why her mail wasn't being delivered.

Ainsworth said she felt she had no choice but to pay the bill, particularly since the collection letter from the attorney warned that if it wasn't paid, she would be unable to renew her Missouri car registration.

FOX 4 Problem Solvers called the E-470 Highway Authority. A spokeswoman sent us US Postal Service tracking numbers, which she said proved multiple statements were mailed to both Ainsworth and Pearson.

This isn't the first complaint about the billing practices of the E-470 Highway Authority. A quick search online shows dozens of similar complaints from other drivers who also claim they were never notified of the toll until after late fees started stacking up.

Ainsworth said she'll never drive the E-470 again.

"I won't put money into a system that is scamming its users," she said.

By the way, when FOX 4 asked the highway authority about the claim that an unpaid toll could result in not being able to renew your vehicle registration, we were told that only applied to vehicles registered in Colorado. When we asked why that wasn't made clear in the letter, she said it would be too difficult to write a letter for every driver, so a form letter is mailed.

FOX 4 Problem Solvers suggest that going forward, the E-470 Highway Authority add a line to each form letter, pointing out that the threat of not being able to renew your registration only applies to Colorado residents.