ORLANDO, Fla. – Imagine not being able to pay cash for some of the toll roads you use every day. It's already happened in and around Miami and near Tampa, but now it is going to be happening in Central Florida.
The Florida Turnpike Enterprise confirmed that all Florida's Turnpike roadways are going to all-electronic tolling in a 70-mile stretch from Osceola County to Sumter County by next summer. According to FTE, the project will take place on Florida's Turnpike from Kissimmee Park Road at milepost 239 to I-75, which is at milepost 309.
"They're going to continue on the toll road like they have before, but they're not going to have to merge, not going to have to slow down prior to that," Florida Turnpike's Katie Mitzner said. "So it's going to be safer. It's going to be more convenient."
Mitzner confirmed that the cash tolls at the Leesburg exit are already being prepped for the changeover.
"The big crux of what is going to be taking place is going to be the installation of a gantry that is going to be going over all four lanes," Mitzner said. "And following that, they will demolish the Leesburg toll plaza."
The new gantry will be built over the existing four lanes of the turnpike, about a half mile south of the existing Leesburg toll plaza at milepost 288. The project will include milling and resurfacing, minor widening, lighting, highway signing, guardrail, toll facilities and other construction and safety improvements.
FTA said customers may encounter lane closures, ramp closures and detours at night, weekends and non-peak travel periods.
How does all-electronic tolling work? See it at FloridasTurnpike.com.
The total amount for the contract is just over $17.6 million, and the demolition of the Leesburg toll plaza is approximately $320,000. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020.
With the conversion comes the loss of some jobs, however. FTE said there are nine Florida Department of Transportation employees and about 180 contract employees that will be affected by the conversion. FTE said those employees have already been notified and the agency has job-placement plans in place to assist them.
The agency points out currently, all-electronic, no-cash tolling is in place on the southern 53 miles of Florida's Turnpike in southern Broward and Miami-Dade counties, along with the Sawgrass Expressway in Broward County and the Veterans Expressway and I-4 connector in the Tampa Bay area.
The turnpike website also states Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX), eliminated cash-toll collections on these five expressways: State Road 836/Dolphin Expressway, State Road 112/Airport Expressway, State Road 924, State Road 874 and State Road 878. The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA), has eliminated cash toll collection on its Selmon Expressway. The Rickenbacker, Venetian and Broad causeways in Miami have gone the all-electronic route and the new Mid-Bay Connector in Niceville recently opened as an all-electronic tolling facility.
An FDOT spokesperson said studies are taking place about when to add it to the small sections of state roads 417 and 528 that are currently managed by the turnpike system.
Not all the toll roads in Central Florida will be affected by this big change, however.
News 6 checked with the Central Florida Expressway Authority, the agency that runs E-pass. An agency representative said there are no plans to convert to all-electronic tolling anytime soon. That means drivers will still find cash tolls and toll workers along the 408, 417, 429 and 528 toll roads.
But come next summer, any driver using the Florida Turnpike in Osceola, Orange, Marion and Sumter counties will have to either use a transponder to pay their way through, or receive a toll-by-plate bill.
Toll-by-plate users will get a monthly tally of tolls at the regular rate, plus a $2.50 fee sent to them via mail. That means drivers who always paid cash previously would pay $30 more a year to use Florida's Turnpike after it converts to all-electronic tolling.
Drivers who choose to use the SunPass transponders could see a cheaper rate for tolls, due to built in discounts of about 20% the agency created for prepaid accounts.
As always, any unpaid tolls could lead to a hold being placed on your license plate renewal.
According to the Florida's Turnpike website, the turnpike is used daily by more than 2 million motorists and is operated by Florida's Turnpike Enterprise, part of FDOT. The turnpike system includes the Mainline from Miami to Central Florida, as well as the Homestead Extension (HEFT), Sawgrass Expressway, Seminole Expressway, Beachline Expressway, Southern Connector Extension, Veterans Expressway, Suncoast Parkway, Polk Parkway, Western Beltway and the I-4 connector.
Here is an excerpt from the website about what led to the FTE's decision to convert to all electronic tolling:
Q: Why has Florida's Turnpike Enterprise transitioned to all-electronic toll collection?
A: Since SunPass was launched in 1999, the Turnpike's goal has been to eliminate cash toll collection on its roads because electronic tolling is the safest, most convenient and most efficient way to pay tolls. Today, 81 percent of all toll transactions on the entire Turnpike System of roads are done with SunPass, and the numbers keep growing. Now that the technology to collect all tolls electronically is here, FTE is moving forward to ensure that its customers receive the best value for their trip in the form of safety, service and convenience now and in the future.
Q: What are the benefits of all-electronic, no-cash tolling?
A: Safety. It eliminates a driver's need to make a decision at the toll collection point, thereby removing traffic conflicts between cash customers and SunPass customers. Convenience. No customer will need to slow down or stop to pay tolls, which will be collected electronically through SunPass pre-paid accounts or through toll-by-plate. Environment. Because no customers are slowing down and stopping to pay tolls, the amount of noise and auto emissions is reduced at the tolling locations, which results in less air pollution and less traffic noise for nearby residents. Savings. It helps customers reduce fuel consumption by eliminating stop-and-go driving and saves money on gas. Cash and toll-by-plate customers who sign up for SunPass will save money by using SunPass to pay their tolls.