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SANDAG board examining ways to improve toll customers’ drive

At a December San Diego Association of Government Board of Directors meeting, SANDAG Chairwoman Nora Vargas, Vice Chair Sean Elo-Rivera, and Second Vice Chair Lesa Heebner announced the next steps to ensure all SR-125 toll road customers are protected.

“Ensuring the public’s trust is paramount. The Board and I are taking these matters extremely seriously and an investigation plan is already underway with our new Independent Performance Auditor,” said SANDAG and San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas said in a press release. “As we roll out these next steps, I will ensure that SANDAG staff updates the Board and the public every step of the way.”

Vargas asked that the Independent Performance Auditor to assess the toll operations system as part of the SANDAG Board leadership’s commitment to accountability and transparency.

This follows on the heels of El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells and SANDAG director calling on SANDAG to conduct an outside, independent investigation of its toll road operations in November after a recent court filing against SANDAG suggests that as many as 45,000 residents may have been inaccurately charged tolls for the SR-125 toll road.

“Regrettably, it has become apparent that both the SANDAG Board and the public have experienced a decline in confidence in the agency due to a perceived lack of transparency from SANDAG management. To help restore confidence, I call for an independent investigation from an outside entity. The primary objective of this investigation is to comprehensively understand and disclose the root cause(s) of the challenges facing the toll operations,” wrote Wells in a Nov. 11 letter to SANDAG to have the independent investigation placed on Dec. 8 Board of Director’s agenda. “Specifically, the investigation must determine whether County residents are inaccurately being charged for trips not taken on the toll road. The investigation must include a thorough analysis of the allegations regarding the errors caused by the ETAN software and provide transparency on the history and reliability of the ETAN software.”

SANDAG leadership announced the following immediate actions:

• Deputy CEO Ray Major will take over management of toll operations from the Chief Financial Officer and oversee the transition to the new back-office system. Major has more than two decades of private industry experience building and implementing software systems and will provide the critical operational expertise needed to lead this work going forward.

• The SANDAG Customer Service Center is increasing staff and resources to make sure each and every customer is able to talk to someone if they have any questions or concerns.

• The SANDAG Board will be presented with an action plan at its Jan. 12, 2024 meeting that details the impacts of the current system and the next steps to address deficiencies and implementation of the new back office system.

“Rebuilding public trust and resolving the tolling operations system will be the top priority for our interim CEO,” Vargas stated. “We understand that we have a fiduciary responsibility to the community to get this right and we have a plan to do so. I want to be clear that we will take every step necessary to protect the public and ensure the integrity of this system.”

Customers with account questions can contact the SANDAG Customer Service Center at (888) 889-1515, or email: customerservice@sandag.org

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