The Venetian and Rickenbacker causeways’ toll plazas will convert to SunPass on Sept. 23, state and county officials say.
After that, the toll-takers will be gone and cash will no longer be an option for paying the toll on either causeway.
The toll charge for a two-axle vehicle on both causeways is now $1.75, which is the same price that SunPass will charge, but if a vehicle doesn’t come equipped with the SunPass transponder, the Toll-By-Plate charge will be $2.25 for a two-axle vehicle, plus a monthly invoice fee of $2.50.
Drivers who cross the Venetian, which links Miami with Miami Beach over Biscayne Bay, will continue to pay each way when they cross the causeway. The Rickenbacker, which leads to Virginia Key and Key Biscayne, will continue to charge only to go toward the islands but not toward the mainland.
Residents and workers on Key Biscayne and the Venetian Islands will continue to get discounted rates.
Key Biscayne residents will continue to pay $24 annually and will receive unlimited back-and-forth access across the Rickenbacker, while those who work and go to school on the key, pay $60 annually. The price for Venetian residents and workers will remain $24 and $90 respectively.
Holders of the causeways’ existing “C-Pass” transponders will have to purchase a SunPass transponder, then provide their 13-digit SunPass transponder number to the Causeways Division of the Miami-Dade County public works department so that they can associate the SunPass with their C-Pass account to get the discount.
“Mailings have already gone out to customers on both facilities instructing customers of what to do,” said Gayle Love, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade public works. “More will follow.”
The far right lane of the Rickenbacker will be for bicycle traffic only. A cement barrier will serve as a divider between the cyclists and vehicle traffic. There are now eight lanes for vehicular traffic on the Rickenbacker but only the center four lanes will be used for vehicles after the conversion. The remaining lanes will be closed but the toll plazas will remain in place for now. There will be no stopping since cash payments will no longer be accepted.
“Over the long term the county plans to replace the facility with an appropriate type of gantry and entryway feature,” Love said.
“For other classes of vehicles,” says Love, “the current cash toll rate will become the SunPass rate and the Toll By Plate will be proportionally higher.”
Rickenbacker’s center toll lanes have been closed after 3 p.m. on most days, leading to bottleneck traffic jams that can stretch from Brickell Avenue to the toll plaza.
“Those lanes have had the old toll system removed and the new hardware for SunPass installed,” Love said. “Therefore, those center toll lanes are only being used when necessary – during peak traffic periods. Once the conversion to SunPass is implemented, the center toll lanes will be the only lanes utilized.”
With the phase-in of SunPass, comes the phase-out of 27 full-time and six part-time toll jobs. Love says management and the county’s Human Resources Department have been working to assist current employees in job placements. Currently the county employs 16 toll collectors and 13 temporary contracted toll collectors. The toll-collection operation on both causeways is a 24-hour operation, seven days a week.
On the Venetian, a portion of the West Venetian Bascule Bridge collapsed on March 15, but even though construction to permanently fix the structure has not begun, it will not affect the launch date for SunPass.
“An expedited contract is under way,” Love said. “We anticipate awarding the contract in October with construction beginning in November and a full closure of the bridge lasting up to nine months. As the SunPass conversion is slated to take place prior to the start of construction and the close of the Western Bascule bridge, there are no anticipated impacts to the conversion date.”
Love said that the money collected on the causeways is used to fund operations, maintenance, and improvements of the causeways.