The tolls on the Francis Scott Key and Thomas J. Hatem Memorial bridges will become cashless in October, Maryland transportation officials announced Thursday.
The 60,000 drivers who use the bridges each day will pay either by E-ZPass or by video tolls, which take a picture of the vehicle’s license plate and send a bill by mail to the driver’s address.
The Maryland Transportation Authority, which manages the state’s toll facilities, will spend $26 million to demolish the existing toll plazas, resurface the roadways approaching the bridges and install video tolls.
“With the plazas gone, tolls then will be collected at highway speeds as motorists drive beneath the overhead toll collection points just like they do on the [Intercounty Connector] and I-95 North in Baltimore,” Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said in a news conference at Maryland Transportation Authority Police headquarters.
Maryland has a plan to update all of its tolling facilities. The Hatem and Key bridges are the first because both have a high percentage of E-ZPass drivers.
Currently 93% of drivers who cross the Hatem Bridge and 80% of those on the Key Bridge use E-ZPass.
Contracts to update tolling stations were approved in February 2018. No timeline has been announced for when other MDTA toll sites will be converted to cashless.
Officials touted the benefits of cashless tolling including decreased congestion, reduced car emissions, improved driver safety and rate savings for customers.
“Each year, drivers at the Hatem and Key bridges will save $1 million in fuel and 44,000 hours just by not stopping in toll lanes,” Rahn said. “This means no more stopping and searching for money.”
The five full-time Transportation Authority toll collectors at the two bridges have been offered other jobs within the agency, said MDTA director Kevin Reigrut.
Of the more than 100 still working in Maryland, four work full-time at the Key Bridge and one works full-time at the Hatem Bridge, said Reigrut. Anticipating more cashless tolling, the agency stopped hiring full-time toll collectors, in favor of contract employees, in early 2018.
Still, toll collectors are “the bedrock foundation” of the agency, he said.
“In each case, the toll collectors involved have been offered, and in virtually all cases have accepted, reassignments in neighboring facilities,” Reigrut said. “They’ve been with us since the very beginning, and we made extra efforts to make sure that each and every one of them had new opportunities at the authority.”
The state already offers all-cashless tolling on the Interstate 95 express lanes and the Intercounty Connector/Route 200 between Gaithersburg and Laurel. The two bridges are its first legacy toll facilities to go cash-free.
The Key Bridge carries 1.6 miles of the eastern part of the Baltimore Beltway — Interstate 695 — over the Patapsco River to Dundalk, with a dozen toll lanes split between the two directions. It is a major trucking route to the new Tradepoint Atlantic redevelopment in Sparrows Point, the former home of the Bethlehem Steel mill.
“It’s about time,” said Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s senior vice president for corporate affairs, upon hearing the news. “Maryland is moving in the direction of what Delaware has long done and proven successful on their tolled highways.”
Cashless tolling on the Key Bridge will further encourage port truckers to use Broening Highway instead of neighborhood streets, he said, calling it “a step toward better and more efficient movement between Seagirt Marine Terminal and Tradepoint.”
“It helps spur continued growth and investment within the port of Baltimore,” Tomarchio said.
The 1.4-mile, four-lane Hatem Bridge spans the Susquehanna River, carrying U.S. 40 between Havre de Grace and Perryville. Tolls are collected only in the eastbound direction.
Maryland E-ZPass transponders can be obtained for free from the MDTA and have no monthly fee. Drivers create an account and load money onto the devices, which are used to pay tolls. Those who don’t have the transponders will still be billed 150% of the cash toll fee and have 30 days to pay, Reigrut said.
“No customer is going to lose the ability to use the facilities,” Reigrut said. “I would strongly encourage anyone to go and get that E-ZPass. We want our customers to be saving money.”
AAA Mid-Atlantic, which represents nearly a million Maryland drivers, supports cashless tolling and urges its members to get the free E-ZPass transponders, said spokeswoman Ragina Cooper Averella.
“We do believe it will increase the free flow of traffic, reduce congestion and increase traffic safety,” Cooper Averella said. “That being said, AAA Mid-Atlantic is not supportive of motorists being penalized because they do not have a transponder by being charged higher fees.”
Cashless tolling is designed to be revenue-neutral, Reigrut said, but cost savings are expected.
“The idea was not necessarily to make money,” Reigrut said. “Any operating cost savings that are ultimately associated with it after the infrastructure is improved … will allow us to continue to provide outstanding service without having to require additional toll revenues from our customers.”