The free ride is almost over.
Starting Saturday morning, just after midnight, drivers will have to pay a toll on the Dolphin and Airport expressways no matter where they enter, said Mario Díaz, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority.
The electronic toll collection on 836 and 112 is the final phase of a plan started in 2006 and put into motion in 2010 on the three other expressways MDX oversees.
Last year, the MDX board approved the toll rates for the two highways. The revenue will help finance improvements mainly on 836 — one of the busiest expressways in South Florida.
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The new arrangement is aimed at making sure that all users help pay for the maintenance, improvements and operation of the roads.
Until Saturday, drivers will still be able to drive for free between certain segments. And although commuters love no-toll roads, MDX officials are looking to “equalize the system.”
“As of now, only 55 percent of the drivers on 836 pay a toll,” Díaz said. “Tolling points have been built throughout the expressway to allow for a more equitable distribution of the toll. Until Saturday, that smaller group was paying for 100 percent of the maintenance and improvements of the expressway system.”
Drivers on the other highways operated by MDX — the Don Shula, Snapper Creek Expressway and Gratigny Parkway — are already paying electronic tolls no matter where they enter. Tolls are collected electronically through SunPass or Toll by Plate. Cash is no longer accepted.
“Everybody pays for the distance they drive,” Díaz said. “Some will pay less. Some will pay more and some will pay where they never paid before.
“But everybody will pay for what they use,” he said.
About a million drivers use MDX’s five toll roads each day, Díaz said.
Perhaps the biggest change drivers will notice on 836 starting Saturday will be on the segment between the Palmetto Expressway and Northwest 27th Avenue, one of the most widely used free stretches. Drivers entering the highway at 826 and traveling to 27th will pay 70 cents.
Another widely used free segment, on 112, is between Interstate 95 and Miami International Airport. The free ride will change Saturday, with westbound drivers between I-95 and the airport getting charged 70 cents if they use the entire expressway.