Workers on Monday began the process of removing the cash toll booths on State Road 836 at Northwest 17th Avenue which have been closed in anticipation of a new toll rate and full-fledged electronic toll collection next year.
About half a dozen workers were on top of a structure over the toll booths, where cash lanes had been closed with barricades that diverted traffic onto the SunPass lanes.
Cash is no longer accepted at that location and tolls from now on will be collected via SunPass or the so-called Toll-by-Plate system by which vehicle owners get a monthly bill in the mail. The toll rate there is $1 for SunPass users and $2 for Toll-by-Plate drivers who do not have SunPass.
When the new rate takes effect next summer, it will be 70 cents, but drivers will pay more because once full-fledged electronic toll collection takes effect no matter where they enter the road they will pay a toll. Right now, drivers who dont want to pay tolls can exit before the toll plazas.
Though a few drivers seemed confused as the approached the now-closed Northwest 17th Avenue toll plaza, no accidents or major backups were reported during the Monday morning rush.
Over the weekend, the cash lanes at the iconic 836 toll plaza near Marlins Park were closed, and cash no longer be accepted at that location. Tolls there will be deducted by SunPass or the Toll-by-Plate system through which bills are sent by mail to vehicle owners.
The change is part of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authoritys preparations for the complete conversion of 836 to all-electronic tolling in 2014, when the new toll rates will take effect.
The change affects the toll plaza known as The Wing for its sleek design, which features a canopy suspended from a web of cables over the expressway.
While the cash toll booths will eventually be removed, the artistic structure will remain, serving as a gateway to the road.
For now, the existing rate at the toll plaza at Northwest 17th Avenue will remain the same: $1 for SunPass users and $2 for Toll-by-Plate drivers. Once the new rates take effect next year, drivers will pay 70 cents at several locations along the expressway.
While that will be less than the current $1 charge at Northwest 17th Avenue, drivers who travel longer stretches on 836 will ultimately pay more in tolls.
Once full-fledged electronic tolling is activated in the summer of 2014, drivers will no longer have the option of leaving the highway before reaching a tolling location. Electronic tolls will be collected anywhere the driver enters the road.
Currently, many drivers dont pay a toll because they exit 836 before the Northwest 17th Avenue toll plaza. That option will remain for now.
The new 70-cent toll was approved by the board of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) last month, but there was no discussion then of closing the cash lanes at the 836 toll plaza at Northwest 17th Avenue.
However, Mario Diaz, an MDX spokesman, said the change was announced as early as last May to drivers who use the cash lanes via flyers and to more than 200,000 Toll-by-Plate customers by mail. A banner announcing the change also has been on display for some time at the toll plaza.
Alfred Lurigados, the MDXs engineering director, said agency officials decided to close the cash lanes early because otherwise the cost of the project would have gone up.
The cost of the entire electronic toll collection transition on 836 is estimated at $20 million. That includes the full reconstruction of the highway section where the toll plaza is located, demolition of the existing plaza and installation of new collection gantries east of the Palmetto Expressway, State Road 826.
Cash lanes decision
Lurigados said that under a prior plan, now discarded, the contractor planned to relocate the cash lanes at the toll plaza to another site, and still go ahead and close its toll booths this year.
But that plan was modified because of the cost savings.
In about February-March time frame they started to analyze, I guess amongst themselves as the design-builder, this is going to cost a lot more money and they are going to end up being a little delayed with the switch, Lurigados said. So during that March time frame is when we started to discuss this option of switching out from cash early and converting early.
Lurigados said closing the cash lanes will affect a limited number of drivers.
At that location, he said, 77 percent of drivers already pay their tolls via SunPass.