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Toll projects to alleviate congestion

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Many drivers feel the pain when they hit the road during the busiest hours of the day. But a few roadway projects are in the process to alleviate the congestion.

The First Coast Expressway is a new toll road that will start on Interstate 95 in northern St. Johns County through Clay County and will run to Interstate 10 in western Duval County.

The first phase from Blanding Boulevard to I-10 is currently under construction, but Florida Department of Transportation officials say there are no available funds to cover the rest of the expressway.

"Fortunately we have energy-efficient vehicles, not using as much gas," FDOT spokesman Ron Tittle said. "Well, that's good, but by not using enough gas, then we don't pay as much in taxes in that respect. So that does impact total funding."

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The tolls charged through the finished portion of the expressway and the new express lanes that will be added to the southeast end of I-295 will help cover other roadway projects.

Officials said the tolls can be from 25 cents to $1 and won't disrupt traffic because there won't be any toll booths.

"We're going to use a SunPass or a toll-by-plate, like a license plate, but they'll send you a notice in the mail to pay that," Tittle said.

The expressway will be a set amount with several tolls along the stretch of roadway, but the tolls on the express lanes of I-295 will vary depending on the volume of traffic throughout the day.

Drivers have mixed feelings on charging tolls for expressway access.

"I personally don't like it," said Nona Tarjan, of St. Johns County. "I'm for raising the gas tax if they need revenue."

"I'm kind of indifferent really," another driver said.

"Traffic is horrible, so it should be good," said Bill Holt, of Duval County. "I wish it was here sooner. I wish they had thought about it before the last time when they laid out the road."

The first phase of the expressway is scheduled to be completed by 2016. As for the express lanes, construction is expected to begin next summer.

The cost of the first phase of the expressway is $162 million. The express lanes have a price tag of $155 million.