No-cash SunPass tolls heading to the Rickenbacker Causeway this summer

05/04/2014 4:06 PM

05/04/2014 4:07 PM

SunPass is coming to the Rickenbacker Causeway this summer.

That’s when county officials expect to finish the years-long process of converting the causeway toll plaza from the current cash and C-Pass system to SunPass and its Toll-by-Plate electronic collection. Under Toll-by-Plate, a camera mounted on the electronic toll collection gantry snaps pictures of a vehicle’s license plate and then a bill is sent monthly to the registered owner for payment.

The conversion will add the Rickenbacker, one of the county’s busiest roadways, to the growing list of highways and other facilities that use SunPass to collect tolls and other payments such as parking lot fees.

“We expect to be part of the SunPass system later this summer,” said Michael Bauman, chief of the Miami-Dade public works and waste management department’s causeways division.

The 5.4-mile-long Rickenbacker Causeway, which opened in 1949, connects Miami on the mainland to Virginia Beach and Key Biscayne in Biscayne Bay. The causeway has charged tolls for decades and adopted electronic tolling in 1997 via the C-Pass system. Some booths at the toll plaza still accept cash, $1.75 per trip for regular vehicles.

Cash to pay the toll will no longer be accepted on the Rickenbacker once the conversion to SunPass and Toll-by-Plate takes place on an-as-yet undetermined date in the summer.

Going forward, drivers will only be able to pay tolls either via the SunPass transponder or the Toll-by-Plate system.

Those who choose not to acquire SunPass will pay via Toll-by-Plate which involves a surcharge. While the toll will remain $1.75 for regular vehicles using SunPass, it will run $2.25 per trip under Toll-by-Plate plus a $2.50 monthly invoice fee added to the bill.

Key Biscayne residents who currently pay for unlimited passage through C-Pass will be required to carry SunPass when the conversion happens. The annual cost will remain $24, payable in advance. The SunPass device will be programmed to avoid charging a toll when a registered Key Biscayne resident vehicle passes beneath the electronic collection gantry. The 10,000 registered resident users will be contacted later with instructions on how to sign up for the new SunPass system.

In another change, the C-Pass program for non-residents, which has been available at $60 a year to about 7,000 commuters, will be discontinued. Instead, the $60 rate will only be available to those employed or attending school on the causeway or in Key Biscayne.

Bauman, the causeways division chief, provided details of the conversion program during and interview last week.

“We have removed two of the toll booths and we’ve created the necessary four lanes which is what we will be left with whenever we turn over to SunPass,” he said. “We’ll go from eight lanes down to four lanes, and one dedicated bicycle lane off to the right. This is similar to other toll plazas that have gone cashless – fewer lanes are need since drivers will no longer be required to stop.”

Currently, Bauman added, workers are installing new equipment on two of the four lanes and then move over to the other two lanes.

SunPass and Toll-by-Plate also will be available on the Venetian Causeway that links Miami to Miami-Beach.

However, it’s still unclear when the systems will be available on the Venetian given the need to make repairs on a segment of the westernmost drawbridge that links the causeway to Northeast 15th Street in Miami.

In four to six months, the Venetian will be closed to through traffic so the repairs can be made over a period of six to nine months.

SunPass equipment will be installed on the Venetian, but county officials have not yet decided whether it will be activated before the causeways shuts down or when it reopens once repairs are completed.

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