In the midst of a major headache-inducing Bay Bridge construction project, Maryland has announced that it will fast-track cashless tolling. By this summer, the toll operations on the Annapolis side of the bridge will no longer exist.
The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) says beginning this month, some existing toll booths will be demolished to create wider lanes at the Bay Bridge plaza. And crews will get ready to install overhead tolling gantries on Kent Island, between the Bay Bridge and MD 8. Drivers traveling eastbound will be tolled there as they get off the bridge. Once the overhead tolling gantries are up and running on Kent Island, there will be no tolling on the western shore.
When all-electronic tolling is in place, no cash payments will be accepted. The overhead gantries will collect tolls electronically by E-ZPass or video tolling (in which drivers’ license plates are read). Drivers won’t have to stop, which translates to less idling time, better fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, according to MDTA.
And it will also eliminate the need for drivers to stop at the toll booths, and reduce congestion—an ongoing issue at the Bay Bridge.
“This past fall, Governor Hogan asked us to initiate cashless tolling at the bridge as soon as possible. This schedule will allow us to fulfill that mission, and this project is the next logical step as Maryland toll facilities move toward an all-electronic system,” says MDTA Executive Director Jim Ports.
Back in October, Governor Larry Hogan ordered transportation leaders to come up with an aggressive timeline for the large-scale bridge re-decking project that is underway, as well as the electronic tolling conversion set to follow. Project managers have been using multiple crews to work both day and night shifts, seven days a week, all in efforts to wrap up the project earlier.
MDTA says the roadwork is unavoidable: the deck surface of the bridge’s right lane has reached the end of its service life and is severely deteriorated, putting drivers at risk. But it has caused even bigger traffic impacts than expected. Soon after the project began, backups at times stretched up to 14 miles, and local roads in Queen Anne’s County have been choked with travelers seeking alternate routes.
Some limited cashless tolling has already been used at the Bay Bridge during the deck rehabilitation, to alleviate congestion during some peak travel times. The good news is that MDTA doesn’t expect much additional traffic impact from construction to install cashless tolling. Work will begin this Sunday, January 12, when toll lanes 3, 4 and 5 permanently close to allow workers to dismantle their toll booths.
74 percent of Bay Bridge drivers already use E-ZPass, according to MDTA, and the agency says now is the time to get your free E-ZPass transponder to be ready for cashless tolling. To sign up or find a list of E-ZPass retailers, click here, or go to an MDTA toll facility or MVA.
MDTA urges drivers to follow all road signs and speed limits while the toll plazas are active work zones. Electronic tolling will be in place by summer, but some remnants of the toll plaza will remain until 2022, when they will be fully demolished as the road is reconstructed.
–Meg Walburn Viviano