Illinois Tollway officials, having exhausted warning notices and phone calls from collection agencies, are taking violators to court to try to recover $300 million in unpaid tolls and fines.

As many as 50 lawsuits were filed in various jurisdictions Friday against the worst offenders, officials said. Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said the tollway has pursued chronic violators through the agency's own processes and by working with collection agencies but now feels it has no other choice but to pursue them in court.

The tollway would not identify them but most are believed to be companies with fleets of commercial vehicles. The top five scofflaws owe a total of an estimated $847,000. It's unclear how many individual violators there are, but as of July the number of unique license plates with violations associated with them totaled 550,000. Some commercial operations may own multiple licenses.

The tollway said it has sent those violators at least five notices, called them at least four times and offered them multiple opportunities to enter a settlement agreement. Overall, the process takes nine months to more than two years from the time a violator receives a first violation notice to the point at which a judgment is filed in court, the tollway said.

The tollway plans to pursue legal action against the worst individuals, but not immediately, Lafleur said. There are an estimated 1.2 million outstanding violation notices dating to about 2001 but 98% of tollway customers pay their tolls on time, she said.

The agency's most flagrant individual offender, a west suburban resident, has racked up more than $100,000 in tolls and fines, tollway spokesperson Wendy Abrams said.

The tollway issues about 1.4 million first violation notices every year. It collected more than $33 million in revenue from toll violations in 2011, according to its most recent audit by the Illinois auditor general's office.

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