When the Bay region’s stay-at-home orders are eventually lifted, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge will be ready for that summer traffic.
The conversion to full-time electronic tolling will be finished sooner than expected at the bridge, according to Maryland transportation officials. The cashless, all-electronic system will go live on Tuesday, May 12, weather permitting. That’s ahead of the directive from Governor Larry Hogan to institute cashless tolling by summer 2020.
Temporary, emergency cashless tolling has been in place across Maryland since March 17 to help with social distancing, but crews are now putting finishing touches on the new, permanent system. It includes an overhead tolling gantry across eastbound US 50 between the Bay Bridge and MD 8 (on the Kent Island side, rather than the Anne Arundel County side where the old toll booths were). With all-electronic tolling, drivers don’t stop at toll booths. Instead, tolls are collected through E-ZPass and Video Tolling.
The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) have been urging drivers who had been paying cash to get a free E-ZPass transponder. Those enrolled in E-ZPass will pay less to cross the Bay Bridge than those who pay via video tolling. Because of the state of emergency, MDTA is giving people more time to sign up for E-ZPass. For the time being, drivers without E-ZPass will continue to be charged the cash rate of $4. Beginning 30 days after the state of emergency is lifted, bridge drivers without E-ZPass will be charged with video toll rate of $6.
MDTA says cashless tolling will allow traffic at the bridge to keep moving, saving drivers “a combined, estimated 42,000 hours annually” of waiting in traffic. The transportation authority cautions, however, that when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and regular traffic volumes return, congestion is still expected at the bridge and US 50 corridor at peak times like summer weekends.
“Even with all-electronic tolling, the volume of vehicles will still exceed the capacity of the roadway during these busy travel times,” MDTA says.
In addition to the cashless tolling conversion, the state recently completed a major bridge re-decking project a year ahead of its original schedule.
For more information on enrolling in E-ZPass and the discount plans available, as well as tolling updates in regards to COVID-19, visit https://mdta.maryland.gov/covid-19-response
-Meg Walburn Viviano