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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Travel Alert: Colorado - Don't Drive the E-470, in fact . . . Just avoid Colorado altogether! ! !

Crater Lake - Oregon

(NOTE: See my previous post here.)

* * Updated 6-5-12 --- see bottom of post * *

Oh, lordy, lordy, lordy . . . . where to begin? ? ?  I suppose I should start with a warning that this will most likely end up as another long-winded rant . . . 

Teton Range - Reflections at Schwabachers by Smaldone
If you want to just skip to the end main idea . . . here it is . . . stay away from toll roads, most specifically the one(s) in Colorado.  And, based on how the people in charge in Colorado seem to be doing nothing about the deceptive and shady billing practices of the toll road operators even though there have been numerous exposes about their billing practices on all the TV stations and major newspapers in the Denver area, and other practices that seem aimed at making tourists lives there as difficult as possible, I'd even go so far as to recommend boycotting the state entirely.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot Flowers Grand Tetons - by David Smaldone
You want mountains, do yourself a favor and go see the Sierra Nevadas in California, or perhaps the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming or Glacier National Monument in Montana would sate your craving for the rugged majesty of the mountains in the lower 48 instead.  And, don't forget about the Appalachias on the eastern side of the continent.

Glacier National Park - Alice Lake Sawtooth 
You want skiing, try Park City, UT, or Killington, VT, Sun Valley, ID, or Lake Tahoe or Mammoth Mountain in California.

Grand Tetons - Jackson Lake by Kimberly Finch
These places embrace and welcome tourists.  They do not scheme and deceive and hide the things you need as a tourist (food, gas, lodging) and they certainly don't try to destroy your credit over ridiculous toll bills.

Glacier National Park - Reflection on Lake McDonald by David Restivo
So, here is the story . . . I am STILL fighting this nightmare.  Well, wait . . .  I am going to switch gears a bit and back up a little and first tell you about the other problems I had in that state.  Normally I would have considered those issues as just minor inconveniences, but when added all up . . . it created an experience that tells me tourists are not welcome in Colorado except to be deceived and robbed, apparently with the state government's blessing.

September 29, 2011 - morning:  I entered Colorado on the I-70 and stopped in Fruita for a late coffee and breakfast.  I got off the interstate and grabbed a coffee and croissant and tried to get back on the interstate.  Not being familiar with the area I was in the wrong lane and couldn't get over to get on the freeway because of the other traffic entering the circle, so I ended up missing the entrance and had to drive about a mile down the road to circle back.  No left hand or U turns allowed!  Then, on my second try, although I knew where I needed to go now, again, could not get over to that lane because of all the traffic entering the circle just before the spot I needed to get over to.  Another mile down and another mile back for a third try.  This time, I decided to just drive through the circle and come back from the other side so I didn't have to try to get over with all the traffic coming through right at that spot.  I am used to driving in extremely busy LA traffic, this shouldn't have been so difficult.  It was as if they worked really, really hard to come up with something to make life as difficult as they possibly could for travelers unfamiliar with the area.

September 29, 2011 - Later that afternoon I was passing through Vail.  I needed gas and the sign said gas next exit, so I got off and drove up and down and around . . . no further signs and no sign of a gas station in sight.  So, I got back on the freeway and thought I'd try the next one.  Next exit, another sign on the interstate that says gas next exit, so again, I get off and start driving all around looking for the promised gas.  Again, no luck finding it.  Good thing I try not to get very far below a half tank before I top off.  Third exit . . . again, a sign promising gas next exit and again . . . no gas station in sight.   Up, down, around, back and forth.  No sign of gas in sight.  I finally find a road crew and ask one of the workers where in the world they hide all the gas stations in that town.  As luck would have it, the worker was not only not from the area, she wasn't even from Colorado, she was from Utah, working on the crew for the season.  But . . . she said she thought if I drove down the road about a mile and a half and started looking down over the left side of the road and watched closely, there would be a little restaurant and they had gas there.

So, off I went, and she was right.  But by golly, you did have to watch very carefully . . . even knowing to watch for it, I still nearly missed it.  There were no signs.  The embankment was very steep and very deep.  The restaurant was just a tiny little cafe with a couple of pumps outside it.  By the time I got there, I was below a quarter of a tank, it took quite a bit of the gas I had left just to find a gas station.  I was beginning to think I was going to run out of gas before I found a station. 

I can understand not wanting to clutter up scenic areas with massive billboards and signs everywhere, but come on, Colorado . . . if you are promoting tourism and want people to visit, they are going to be needing things like food, gas and lodging on their journeys.  If you are going to hide them and not put any signs up to make it easier to find these things, we get the impression you don't really want us there.

October 4, 2011 - I re-entered Colorado on my return trip home.  I made the fateful decision to take the toll road as a short cut from the 76 over to the scenic road to go up to Rocky Mountain National Park.  I somehow missed getting on it from the 76 and got off at the next exit and had to drive FOR-E.V.E.R. to try to find a way onto the toll road.  I was beginning to think I would never find it when all of the sudden, I noticed a comparatively small sign (maybe 8" by 20") that said toll road.  So, I got on and started looking for the toll booth.  I have taken a few toll roads in my life.  I don't mind paying the fees, so I was expecting to pay and be done with it.  But, there was not one toll booth in sight.  Nowhere.  So, I thought perhaps there would be one at the end when I got off.  There was no signage, nothing that gave any indication as to how to pay the toll or even how much it would end up being.

When I got to the end of the road, there was still no toll booth.  Still no signage giving any indication as to how to pay.  Not being from the area, I thought maybe the road may have been decommissioned as a toll road or something.  It was odd being on the road.  Here was a nice, big road in a metropolitan area, about midday during a work week, but there was almost no traffic on it.  I'm not sure I even saw a dozen cars the whole time I was on it.  I guess that should have been a warning sign that something was very wrong with that road.  I have since found out why the locals know to stay away from this nightmare.

Anyway, I got to the end of the road and continued on my journey, up and around through Rocky Mountain National Park and finally back to interstate 70 and on my way back home.

Now fast forward a few weeks.  A letter arrives, but it looks like junk mail, so it gets set aside.  A couple of weeks later, another arrives.  I realize it is a bill for the toll road and pay it.  It was dated 11-12-11, but there was another date in the upper right hand corner of 11-15-11 and I didn't receive it until about a week later.  Apparently, they take a photo of your license plate and then bill you that way.  It would be nice if they would at least post signs that tell you that is what is going to happen.  

Then, a few days later, another bill arrives, dated 11-14-11.  Since I had already paid it, I just figured it had crossed in the mail with my payment.  Then a few weeks later, another bill with an additional late fee arrives, dated 12-12-11 and another date in the upper tight hand corner of 12-14-11and again it arrived about a week after that.  So, I sent a note with a copy of my cancelled check.  Then, another bill arrives with additional late fees also dated 12-14-11.  And yet another bill with an additional $25 civil penalty dated 1-14-12.

Then I get a letter from the toll company dated 1-18-12 saying they would waive the $5 late fee just this one time only.  It was worded like they thought I was some deadbeat and needed a bit of scolding.  Could they not see they were sending the bill to California and I would not likely be using their precious road again?  But, it didn't say anything about the other $25 penalty and other late fees they had tacked on.  

So, I googled "toll road ripoff" and the E470 came right to the top of the search.  And the stuff I was reading was incredible.  Absolutely unbelievable.  I couldn't believe what I was reading.  Story after story about the nightmares people have been put through for the sin of having taken that road.  People's credit is being ruined over these piddly $3 and $4 toll fees.  Apparently, the toll road operators assume everyone will just know they should go online and google how to pay the toll.  Seriously?  After reading what everyone else has been put through, I wouldn't want to give them my credit card number, they would probably try to charge me for the entire cost of building the road.

The toll road operators initially weren't even sending the bills out to people until they had already been sent to collections and billed hundreds and even thousands of dollars in penalties and fines.  They claimed the post office lost all the bills or that the person did not keep their address current with the DMV, even though many of the persons involved had not moved in years.  Funny how the collections notices all seemed to have gotten through when none of the other bills they claimed they sent did.  In some cases, people from other states received collection notices in the hundreds of dollars range when they had never even been to Colorado and were basically told too bad, they had to pay anyway.  One woman was fined thousands of dollars and sent to collections over a CREDIT the toll road owed her.  Here are some of the links:

All the local TV stations and newspapers had done stories about the abuses heaped on unsuspecting motorists.  I got a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was just the latest victim of this unscrupulous toll management company.  So, 1-23-12 I started writing letters.  To the governor, to the TV stations, to the newspaper reporters, to the toll company, to senators, etc.

For a while, I didn't hear anything.  Then, I get a notice dated 2-21-12 that I had been sent to collections.  For a bill I had already paid and had been sending copies of the cancelled check to prove it.  Needless to say, I was very angry and frustrated.

So, I sent more letters to the governor, a couple of senators, the toll road, the collection agency on 2-26-12.

Next I got a generic form letter dated 3-23-12 back from the governor's office thanking me for my input and directing me to contact Gina Talmadge with the Colorado Department of Transportation.  I hadn't heard anything more, so I was hopeful someone finally actually read one of my letters and realized they had made a mistake and fixed it.

Then I finally got a response from the toll company dated 4-18-12.  They said there was "one long toll road circling the Denver metro area, it is made up of two separate parts - E470 and the Northwest Parkway." And that neither of them knows what the other is doing.  And that "a driver can use the toll road system one time and receive two separate bills . . . which understandably can be very confusing."  Really?  They know it can be confusing, but they do nothing to make it less so?  Why don't the two companies just state right on the bills they send out that a person could be billed by multiple agencies for one trip on the road?    

Why didn't they tell me that there were two bills with my first letter and copy of cancelled check?  Why did they wait until after they had safely sent me on to collections to begin ruining my credit over a stupid $3.95 toll?  I'll tell you why . . . it would appear they are purposely making it confusing in order to drive the fees, fines and penalties up as far as they possibly can for each person who unknowingly falls into their little trap.  For some reason, they apparently aren't getting enough traffic on the road to be able to pay for it, so they are fleecing those unwary travelers who haven't been warned of their unscrupulous billing practices.  

Then they go on to say there is nothing they can do for me now because it has already been sent to collections.  How convenient for them.

So, since the nightmare was continuing I decided to take the governors office's suggestion to contact Gina Talmadge regarding this situation.  I offered to pay the toll and requested they remove the other late fees and penalties because of the way this has been handled and the apparently purposefully deceptive billing practices.  I spent $1.10 in postage just to send her copies of all the bills and correspondence back and forth regarding this situation.  Only to find the letter back in my mail box a few weeks later with a hand written "Return to Sender" on it.  No explanation as to why it was returned.

In the meantime, after I had sent the letter to her, with copies to the governor, a couple senators, the toll road and the collection agency, I received another notice from the collection agency dated 5-1-12 stating that they were now billing me a total of $50.75 for the original $3.95 toll fee, with the threat of adding an additional $250 to it if it isn't paid within 10 days of the date of the letter.  There are threats of liens against my property, garnishment of wages, etc.  ALL OVER A $3.95 TOLL FEE! ! ! !  SERIOUSLY? ? ? ?   Again, it took a while to reach me, and I feel that it is unconscionable that they are doing this to me.  

The bill should never have been forwarded to collections while I was trying to prove they had cashed my check.  It wasn't like I was ignoring them.  They never told me there were actually two different bills involved until after the damage to my credit was done.  I have spent quite a bit on postage, not to mention the HOURS I had spent composing letters and getting copies made, etc.  I have spent more time on this now than the time it took for the entire drive through their state.  Oh, that I could go back in time . . . I would gladly have driven a hundred miles out of my way to avoid that whole mess!  Actually, knowing what I know now . . . I would have avoided Colorado entirely.  Drive north of it, drive south of it, but never through it again.

The whole time I was sending them letters, copies of the bills I had been sent and copies of the cancelled check they NEVER told me there were two separate bills involved.  If they had, I would have paid the other bill.  I just thought it was all one bill that they couldn't get straight.  Honestly, how many people out there would expect to receive multiple bills for a single drive on one road?  And they didn't tell me that there were two separate bills until April! ! ! !

So, 5-8-12 I send more letters out to Gina Talmadge (Department of Transportation), Al White (Department of Tourism), Evie Hudak (Transportation Commission), the governor, the toll road and the collection agency.  I included the payment for the original billed amount in Ms. Talmadge's letter.  I sent this second letter before the first letter was returned unopened and with no explanation, so I am not sure she will receive the payment.  Still waiting to see what fresh hell they are going to unleash on me next.

Every time I think I have heard the last of them . . . another bombshell is dropped in my mailbox.  Perhaps they will take away my home and extradite me and put me in prison with all the other hardened criminals who also didn't pay their $3.95 toll bills because they also didn't know there were two separate companies involved.  I have read that some people have had some luck contacting the State's Attorney General's office, so if the saga has to continue . . . that will be my next step.  I will also be asking a friend who is an attorney for some assistance.  I think it is absolutely ridiculous that it has come to this.  If they just had some way to pay while I was on the stupid road, it would have been over and done with in 2 minutes and I wouldn't have to be tortured over and over like this.

If I can even help one person avoid the nightmare of Colorado's ripoff toll road . . . these posts will be worth it.  And, if I can keep someone from going to Colorado, it would actually make me happy!  They do not deserve our tourist dollars if they are going to treat us like common criminals after they purposefully make their toll road payment process so confusing.

. . . .  I'll keep you posted . . . .

* * * * * * * * * *  UPDATE!   UPDATE!   UPDATE! * * * * * * * * * *

I received a letter from Gina Talmadge's office today.  She informed me that CDOT "does not have jurisdiction on the toll roads" (again, I was only on 1 road - they are the ones that allow two different agencies to operate different sections of it).   She also said that they "are separate public highway authorities enabled by law to build and operate their own toll roads.  They are not part of the State-owned highway system."  

She apologized that I had been misinformed by the governor's office that I should contact the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT - her office) and she has notified them about that.

She also said she had forwarded my letter and check to Northwest Parkway and that she had called and spoke to a supervisor there who told her that once they received my letter and check (I had already copied them in and had noted that at the bottom of the letter I sent to Ms. Talmadge, but I guess they didn't notice that), they will close out my account.  No mention was made about whether they will repair any damage they may have already done to my credit.

Also she mentioned that "CDOT had no influence on the decision to settle the dispute; rather it was Northwest Parkway who decided to make a very rare decision in your favor to settle the matter after it had already gone to collections."

I don't want to seem ungrateful that this nightmare appears to be coming to a close for me.  I will believe it is over when I don't receive any further threats from their collection agency and I can see they have not destroyed my credit, but based on how things have gone . . . I am not going to hold my breath and will now also have to run checks on my credit in a few months to be sure they haven't destroyed it over this stupid $3.95 toll.  But, for now anyway, they seem to have come to their senses.  However, all correspondence I have received has been rather . . . lacking in my opinion.  Every letter has basically claimed no one is responsible for or has any control over some aspect of this process and has contained some element of treating me like a criminal.  It is extremely annoying and frustrating.

If I had been able to pay when I was on the road, NONE of this would be happening now.  I was not trying to get out of paying.  I thought I had paid.  I kept sending copies of the cancelled check.  I wasn't going to keep paying the same bill over and over.  If, in the first place, they had simply noted on the bills that a person could receive multiple bills and why, I could and would have been able to take care of them before they escalated them.  As billed, though, again . . . I thought I had paid it and they were having billing problems.  Even the toll road operator said their processes were confusing.  Again, if they know their processes are confusing, they have a duty to make them less so.

This took a HUGE amount of time and effort to try to get resolved.  It should have been resolved a very long time ago when they were receiving the first letters I had sent them.  I copied in EVERYONE! Postage and copies alone totaled well over $20-$30, I didn't think to keep track of it all when this started.  And time . . . OMG . . . lots of long letters took a long time to compose.  

Then there was all the time and effort in writing these long posts  . . . hoping to help others who might be unfortunate enough to end up in a similar nightmare.  And, if you are seeing this BEFORE a trip to Colorado . . . please consider yourself forewarned . . . and if you are going to be renting a car there as well . . . well . . . don't go ANYWHERE near those toll roads unless you have hundreds to spare to donate to the toll authorities!

So, bottom line is, it would appear no one has any jurisdiction or control over what these toll road operators choose to do to the unwary travelers who end up on their roads.  They are apparently free to make things as confusing as they possibly can to run the fees and penalties up at an astonishing rate with impunity!  None of the offices seem to care what they are doing to the tourists who visit and who are unfamiliar with their practices.  

So, I say: TRAVELERS BEWARE! ! ! !  

. . . I truly hope this will be the end of this story . . . but, we'll see what happens . . .  as before . . . I'll keep you posted!


  1. Well, my dear I've never seen a picture of you but I could imagine you in a state of panic, I did chuckle not at your expense but the madness of it all.
    We have nothing like that here I can assure you I wouldn't be able to handle it! Good for you Sherrill, you did get some results.
    Hugs Rosemary... xoxo
    P.S. I'll just hide out in my gardens. ;)

    1. I don't blame you! I'd rather be hiding out in my garden also! It is insane! I just can't believe the state of Colorado is allowing this to happen to so many people! I am sure hoping this is the end of the story, but we'll just have to wait and see! Thanks for dropping by! :)

  2. Love your photos. So beautiful.:-) Hugs

  3. Thanks, Stina! I appreciate you dropping in for a visit! :)

  4. I got a letter from a collection lawyer office
    About toll fees unpaid. I never received a bill either
    I don't understand it cause when I went through there it had a sign saying tolls are closed. Then I get this in mail. First off you going to send me a bill you better have a sign up that reads " toll booths closed we will bill you in mail using your license plate number. " I'm a widowed mom and there is no way I can afford to pay ! Now that being known ; the state needs to put a sign up that reads before you hit toll highway " exit here to avoid toll fees being sent to you in the mail. " I damn would have taken the exit. It seems to me this is illegal and the highway commission office should be held accountable also for not letting people know that are crossing through a toll fine zone with no toll booths. I am just wondering has a lawyer taken a civil suit I know there is one in Denver Colorado that will take this up. If you are a lawyer and taking this action up for individual s who have been violated please call me I want a piece of action. I'm not paying crap. When its generally states fault for not forth going in warning innocent drivers traveling. No not right and I'm on fixed income too. My name Lisa at 3608659436. I ought to get a damn petition started over this rift raft crap.

    1. Hi, Lisa! I am so sorry you are another victim of this mess. I think there are an awful lot of people in the same boat. I wrote a letter to one of the law offices in Denver who advertised as specializing in class action law suits, but didn't hear back from them.

      With as much news media exposure those toll roads have generated in and around the Denver area, I'm flabbergasted nothing has been changed about these toll roads' deceptive practices. They definitely need to post bold signage that warns people BEFORE they get on the toll roads what they will be up against if they do get on those roads, but then . . . they wouldn't be able to collect so much money from the unsuspecting visitors to that area.

      I'd be interested to know if they really do any follow through with their threats, but I sure hope you don't end up finding out first hand if they do! Good luck to you!