Before that, the state’s two newest toll roads, the Intercounty Connector and 95 Express Lanes, were the only ones with entirely electronic payment systems. The Maryland Transportation Authority, which manages the state’s eight toll roads and bridges, said it plans to have an all-electronic toll system at all of its locations, but the conversion is expected to take years.
“We know motorists who use the Bay Bridge are ready to embrace all-electronic tolling,” MDTA Executive Director Jim Ports said in a statement.
The MDTA is fast-tracking the transition to electronic tolling at the Chesapeake Bay crossing to mitigate some of the unprecedented traffic misery that drivers have experienced at the bridge since a two-year repair project began in the fall. The $27 million maintenance project that has closed part of the bridge since late September has created backups that rivaled those typically seen on the busiest summer beach weekends. On one day, traffic stretched for 14 miles, snarling traffic across a large section of Anne Arundel County for 10 hours.
Officials hope to have the cashless system in place in time for the summer beach traffic.
Maryland’s transition to cashless at the Bay Bridge will affect about 40,000 vehicles that cross the bridge daily. MDTA officials said about 74 percent of Bay Bridge drivers already use the E-ZPass electronic payment system. The authority said it is launching a marketing campaign to encourage travelers crossing the Chesapeake Bay to sign up for E-ZPass.
E-ZPass Maryland holders pay a discounted toll at most state toll facilities. At the Bay Bridge, the E-ZPass rate for a two-axle vehicle is $2.50. The cash toll is $4, and the video toll rate is $6.
The state will begin to demolish the existing toll plazas starting this month to create wider lanes at the bridge plaza. Overhead tolling gantries are already in place. The MDTA is spending $21 million to demolish the plazas, reconstruct the roadway and install new tolling gantries on the Eastern Shore side of the bridge on Kent Island. When the all-electronic system goes into effect, motorists traveling eastbound will be tolled as they drive off the bridge.
Construction begins Sunday evening. Three toll lanes will close permanently to allow crews to demolish the toll booths in those lanes. MDTA officials say the impact to traffic should be “minimal” because drivers will still have the remaining lanes open. But the reduction of those three lanes at the toll plaza is likely to create more backups for travelers already dealing with the bridge slowdowns.
Officials are urging drivers to obey signs and speed limits, and be mindful that the toll plazas will be active work zones.
States across the country have been moving toward cashless tolling, closing toll plazas as more drivers opt for electronic payment systems such as E-ZPass. Industry and transportation officials say having all-electronic tolling offers multiple benefits from decreased congestion to reduced car emissions.
By spending less time idling and stopping to pay a toll, Marylanders will save $1 million in fuel and 44,000 hours, according to the state. Additionally, state officials say they anticipate more fluid speeds and fewer crashes.
More than 1 million people have an E-ZPass in the state, and nearly 80 percent of the toll transactions are made with an E-ZPass transponder, according to MDTA.
The Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge in Southern Maryland, which is being replaced, will go cashless just before the new bridge opens in 2023, officials said. The MDTA said it has no definitive timeline for converting the Fort McHenry Tunnel, Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and JFK Highway (I-95) to all-electronic tolling.