At a bill-signing ceremony in the Hampton Roads area Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) set a deadline of July 1 for eliminating the state’s monthly maintenance fee on E-ZPass accounts.

The 495 Express Lanes require drivers to use E-ZPass. (Transurban image)

The legislation, Senate Bill 156, had set a target of Sept. 1. In a video of the governor’s remarks on the Daily Press Web site, McAuliffe says the 50 cent per month fee for the regular E-ZPass transponder and the $1 a month charge for the E-ZPass Flex device will be gone two months sooner than that.

McAuliffe’s immediate audience for the bill signing included the Hampton Roads commuters who now encounter all-electronic tolling at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels, but McAuliffe noted that the legislation will affect all motorists who have Virginia E-ZPass accounts. That includes Northern Virginia drivers who use the Dulles Toll Road, the Greenway and the 495 Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway.

Only the express lanes use all-electronic tolling, and there, drivers have the alternative of using the regular Beltway lanes for free. The tunnel drivers in Hampton Roads have a choice of going without an E-ZPass and instead getting a bill in the mail based on a video image of their license plates.

But in that case, they’re charged an additional processing fee. The E-ZPass is a better alternative all around, but drivers resented having to pay the account fee, which Virginia imposed two years ago to partly offset the cost of the back office operations for the account system.

In speaking to the Hampton Roads audience, McAuliffe cited the legislation as supporting mobility and economic development in that part of the state. In Northern Virginia, ending the maintenance fees is likely to encourage use of the 495 Express Lanes. Transurban, the company that operates them, has said its surveys indicate that 40 percent of drivers on the Beltway don’t have E-ZPasses.

Elimination of the fees, small as they were, may serve as an incentive for more motorists to open accounts. E-Passes also will be needed to use the 95 Express Lanes scheduled to open next year along 29 miles of I-95 in Northern Virginia.