The ease of E-ZPass is arriving on five Cape May County bridges in time for summer — along with a toll hike.
The Cape May County Bridge Commission announced Monday that an E-ZPass toll collection system will be installed on all of the Ocean Drive bridges in its system — from Ocean City south to Grassy Sound near Wildwood.
Simultaneously, the bridge commission proposed a $1 seasonal toll increase that will be decided by a vote scheduled for April 27, following a hearing on the matter that day.
"Our bridges are getting this makeover because the current systems are 10 years old and are in need of an upgrade," said Karen Coughlin, executive director of the Cape May County Bridge Commission. "With the price of electronics down, these new additions create a win-win situation. We anticipate an increase in the number of people using the bridges and paying tolls — adding to the revenue, which will support our efforts to improve the overall conditions of the bridges."
So that "year-round residents do not carry the burden" of the toll hike, the offseason increase would be 50 cents over the current $1.50 toll that passenger cars are required to pay, according to Patrick Rosenello, chairman of the Bridge Commission.
The toll increase would be the first since 2009. In addition to funding the new E-ZPass system, the increase would help fund a balanced operating budget, establish a proactive maintenance plan, and provide for long-term capital improvements.
Rosenello said the E-ZPass installation would increase the commission's toll collection efficiency and was expected to help alleviate traffic tie-ups on the bridges, which include the Ocean City-Longport Bridge, Corsons Inlet Bridge, Townsends Inlet Bridge, Middle Thorofare Bridge, and Grassy Sound Bridge.
The installation is part of an interlocal service agreement the Bridge Commission shares with the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which will serve as the regional administrator for the E-ZPass system.
The agencies have spent the last 18 months working together determining the feasibility of installing E-ZPass along the Ocean Drive Bridge system and the importance of what has become an alternative transportation link connecting Cape May County's barrier island communities.
While taking the Garden State Parkway is still the fastest way to traverse the coastline, with the new toll system "more vehicles will be able to pass over the bridges faster and more efficiently when traveling from Ocean City to Cape May," Rosenello said.
"Our goal in bringing E-ZPass to our Ocean Drive bridges is to ensure that all residents and visitors experience higher levels of efficiency, convenience, and safety while traveling," Rosenello said in a statement.
Though no reductions are planned in full-time staff on the bridges, Rosenello said there would likely be "nominal" reductions in part-time and seasonal staff based on the performance of the system and experience that will be gained during 2017 on its capacity to improve traffic flow and safety.