The San Diego Association of Governments may have lost as much as $1.8 million in revenue last year after someone disconnected toll equipment along State Route 125. Supervisors noticed the non-functioning equipment but failed to take action, officials say. 

SANDAG, the regional planning agency that operates the South Bay Expressway, said it will soon replace the toll stations. Officials are now monitoring daily traffic and revenue reports and will soon bring on a consultant to review the agency’s toll procedures, said deputy CEO and Chief Economist Ray Major.

Why this matters

With a $1.13 billion annual budget, the San Diego Association of Governments is a taxpayer-funded planning agency that helps make long-term decisions that impact the entire region. The tolls collected along State Route 125 help the agency pay off a remaining $180 million in debt.

Major told the agency’s audit committee earlier this month that the system was supposed to be replaced in 2007 and is “literally falling apart.” While crews have been replacing parts of the equipment to keep it functioning, he said, certain pay points that were out of operation “were actually the ones that were counting the cars and making sure we were collecting tolls.”

Four of the road’s 42 stations were disconnected over a period of nearly three months, officials said.

The South Bay Expressway is shown on April 11, 2022. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

CEO Hasan Ikhrata said at a February audit meeting that senior management staff who are no longer at SANDAG were aware of the problem “but failed to report it out.”

“I take full responsibility for any screwup like this,” he said at the time.

Related stories

SANDAG began investigating the non-working tolls after someone reported the problem to the Independent Performance Auditor’s office.

“It wasn’t that just, they got unplugged. It was that they got unplugged and they went unnoticed as far as the revenue impact of that,” independent auditor Mary Khoshmashrab said. “Which means there was a procedure missing that should have been there, which is to review reports on a daily basis.”

Show more

The South Bay Expressway opened in 2007 and runs from Otay Mesa to Spring Valley. SANDAG purchased the lease from a private company to operate the road for more than $340 million, and still owes about $180 million in bond payments.

SANDAG projects the debt will be paid off in 2042. 

But there have been recent calls to stop collecting tolls well before then. Chula Vista Mayor and SANDAG board member Mary Casillas Salas wants a new financial plan that would end tolls by 2027, and state Sen. Ben Hueso introduced a bill earlier this year that would help SANDAG pay off its debt and put the road under the control of the California Department of Transportation.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jennifer Bowman is an investigative reporter at inewsource, covering Imperial County and the South Bay. She used to cover education for inewsource. She’s happy to be back in her hometown after stints at daily newspapers in Michigan and North Carolina. At the Asheville Citizen Times,...