TRENTON - More than 270,000 motorists who owe New Jersey millions of dollars in violation surcharges will soon have the option to rework their payments.

Under a program that begins Tuesday and runs to July 30, drivers will be given the chance to enroll in extended-payment plans, or to have interest waived if they can pay off the principal.

Drivers with surcharges related to drunken-driving convictions are not eligible.

Surcharges are assessed by the Motor Vehicle Commission on an annual basis for drivers who have excessive violation points or who have committed a specific serious violation.

About 273,000 drivers owe the state a total of $657 million. Eligible drivers will receive letters notifying them about the program. They will be advised to contact the collection firm noted on the letter they receive to discuss available options.

Officials said the program would generate money for the state and make it easier for people to pay their debt, especially those who have lost their jobs or have been otherwise affected by the economic downturn.

"Surcharge debt has become a vicious cycle for too many drivers," said acting Motor Vehicle Commission Chief Administrator Raymond Martinez.

"If you don't pay off your debt, you can't get your license back. Without the license, you can't legally drive to work to make the money necessary to pay off the debt. Our goal is to give these particular customers a chance to either wipe the slate clean or arrange more affordable payments that will allow the restoration of their driving privileges."

The seven-week incentive program was authorized by legislation enacted this year.