03/10/2014 11:49 EDT | Updated 05/10/2014 05:59 EDT

$5K Golden Ears toll bill blocks woman's insurance renewal

White Rock's Melanie McIntosh says the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia won't insure her vehicle after she racked up thousands of dollars in unpaid tolls for the Golden Ears Bridge.

She's one of nearly 14,000 people who owe $25 or more in unpaid Golden Ears tolls who are facing insurance renewal rejections from ICBC.

In the past, McIntosh would drive to work in Maple Ridge from her home in White Rock. But she got laid off, and also fell behind on paying her electronically-registered tolls.

"The bill did build up over a couple of years," she said. "I paid off little bits here and there, but it wasn't enough to bring it down quick enough."

Now, she owes $5,200 and ICBC has flagged her account, meaning she won't be able to renew her car insurance in May unless she pays off her debt — all of it at once.

McIntosh, who has a new job and is currently still driving to work, says it's a sort of catch-22 — and it's unfair.

"I've never said I'm not paying it, but for anyone to be insured to get to work legally, and to be able to drive with a legal licence, you need that block taken off," she said.

"I just need some sort of payment arrangement."

Bridge losing money

TransLink, which owns and operates the Golden Ears Bridge, collects tolls to pay for the construction and maintenance of the bridge through a system called Quickpass.

The transportation authority encourages habitual bridge users to set up pre-paid accounts, so they don't end up with big debts.

It can ask ICBC to decline insurance renewals for drivers who haven't paid their bills.

TransLink is currently losing up to $45 million a year on the Golden Ears Bridge because traffic on the span hasn't met projections, and that figure doesn't include the unpaid tolld.

Deb Walters, mayor of Pitt Meadows, says TransLink needs a new solution.

"Whether that means we toll all of the bridges, whether we come up with a different strategy — road pricing or any other type of strategy — is something we need to look at," she said.