Leave the quarters in the kids’ piggy bank and the folding money in your pocket. Electronic tolling on Lee County bridges will become permanent as a new tolling program for three major bridges takes effect in October.
Transponders affixed to vehicles will automatically debit an account attached to the vehicle, and discounts on motorcycle tolls will be eliminated.
Drivers without a transponder will be billed by mail. In October, drivers will again start paying a $3 administrative fee for toll-by-plate. The fee was suspended when collectors were removed from the toll booths..
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County commissioners endorsed the plan at a workshop session Tuesday.
Board workshops are informal proceedings and no official votes are taken. A vote is scheduled next Tuesday to formally approve the commission consensus.
County ordinance also requires a public hearing and formal adoption of a resolution to change toll rates.
Tolls for cars, motorcycles and two-axle trucks will be $2 all day on the Cape Coral and Midpoint Memorial bridges and $6 on the Sanibel Causeway. Bigger vehicles with more axles will pay more.
Elimination of discounts means a $1 motorcycle toll discount on the Cape bridges and a $4 discount on the causeway will be eliminated.
Commissioners backed away from eliminating other discounts for frequent users and people with multiple vehicles.
LeeWay, the county toll collection agency, ended use of toll-takers when the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the region. Collectors were reassigned.
Transponders that can be affixed to the vehicle’s windshield are available at no charge and can be ordered online at www.leewayinfo.com. The county says the miniature sticker transponders will be delivered “in about seven days.”
Online transponder ordering went live on May 27 and more than 200 people signed up in a matter of several days.
“Hard-case” transponders and bumper mount transponders are available for a fee, currently $22.
The hard-case transponders are reusable and can be transferred between vehicles.
County Manager Roger Desjarlais told commissioners the end of the motorcycle discount means devices bought for a motorcycle can’t be used to save money by bringing it along on a car trip.
“The system would not know the difference and they would get the discount,” Desjarlais said. “That becomes the problem. it becomes a manual process to tell motorcycle versus car.”
Other discounted toll pricing will remain. Discounts for off-peak travel, unlimited, and reduced-fare plans and for multiple vehicles registered to the same person are not being eliminated.
Crossing toll bridges without a transformer, and invoking toll-by-plate, will mean adding the $3 administration fee will raise the ultimate cost to $5 for the two tolled bridges and $9 on the causeway. Failure to pay the bill can lead to a citation.
The county was using a collection agency to go after unpaid tolls until the pandemic and is now “in the process of revamping the violation collection process,” Communications Director Betsy Clayton said.
Deputy City Manager David Harner said additional toll collections from the end of the motorcycle discount would be added to road improvement funds for roads in the bridge travel corridor.
“Forty percent of those dollars go to Cape Coral, the other 60% goes to the county, but 100% goes to corridor upgrades,” Harner said. “We can talk about the widening of Cape Coral bridge, the widening of Midpoint bridge, the overpass of Summerlin to Colonial … All those are eligible for those additional funds.”
In the 2020 budget year, the average toll paid on the Midpoint was $2.05, on the Cape Coral it was $1.98 and on the causeway $5.14, an outside consultant said in a periodic report to the county.
Electronic tolls save time on bridges
For many, though, a highlight of the new toll program will be an anticipated reduction in congestion caused by stopping and paying tolls. Still to be seen is whether drivers who lose off-peak incentives will start driving in peak hours, causing new delays.
On a typical February day, time to get from South Pointe to Del Prado on the Cape Coral bridge could be 43 seconds quicker while motorists traveling from just east of the tolls on the Midpoint Memorial to Santa Barbara Boulevard may save an estimated 1 minute 46 seconds.
The county LeeWay passes are compatible with SunPass, used on roads administered by the state Department of Transportation, and E-Pass, the Central Florida Expressway Authority payment method used on seven mid-state roadways since 2004.
Delaware-based EZ Pass, a program in use from Florida to Maine to Illinois, was originally only accepted in Florida on the Central Florida Expressway but is now taken to tolls throughout the state, including those operated by Lee County.
Motorists, such as those who spend time out of state, who own transformers for multiple roadways can use a radio frequency blocking bag to hold one of them and avoid making double-payments.