JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While many motorists told News4Jax they would pay the toll to use the new express lanes on Interstate 295 between I-95 and the Buchman Bridge, traffic was light on those lanes Monday morning. But there were also no backups on the non-express lanes.
One driver cited Friday's morning's traffic problems -- I-95 northbound was shut down for nearly five hours as investigators worked a deadly wrong-way crash -- as a reason paying a toll would be worth it.
Starting Monday, drivers who opt for the express lanes to zip by rush-hour backups were charged at least 50 cents.
The Florida Department of Transportation announced that the new express lanes between Interstate 95 and the Buckman Bridge will collect tolls from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. During all other hours, express lane use will be free.
“We have decided to use ‘time of day’ tolling for the new I-295 express lanes in Jacksonville. This means tolls will be charged only during peak travel times," FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault said in a statement.
During these hours, there will be a set minimum toll price of 50 cents that may be adjusted based on the level of congestion in the express lanes. The department will continue to evaluate peak travel times and could make changes in the future.
To travel in the express lanes, customers must have an active, properly mounted SunPass or other interoperable transponder, such as an E-pass or Peach Pass. Cash or toll-by-plate is not accepted in the express lanes. Only two-axle vehicles are permitted.
Drivers who use the express lanes without a valid SunPass device will receive a letter that could vary from a warning to a $25 unpaid toll violation to a uniform traffic citation.
SunPass portable transponders cost $19.99, while a ministicker transponder costs $4.99. Both require a $10 minimum balance to open a personal SunPass account. They are available for sale at many Florida retailers, including Publix, CVS and Walgreens stores.
News4Jax reporter Jim Piggott tried to activate his SunPass on Friday using the mobile app but ran into some technical problems. The system wouldn't allow him to input data to get the pass working. An error message kept telling him to try back later. FDOT officials said they were looking into the issue.
Piggott had no trouble activating his pass using the website directly.
Also, know that the far left lanes are used as express lanes designed for through traffic, so it will not be possible to exit on San Jose Boulevard or Old St. Augustine Road.
"Florida drivers want options, and express lanes provide drivers with a choice to use the express lanes or remain in the general use lanes. Drivers who use this segment will see decreased congestion and improved safety,” FDOT District 2 Secretary Greg Evans said.
The I-95 to Buckman Bridge express lanes, an $89 million project that began in 2014, is the first such project in Jacksonville to open. Another set of express lanes from State Road 9B to J. Turner Butler Boulevard, a $139.9 million project that began in 2016, is expected to open later this year.
Tolls are also expected to go online this year on the First Coast Expressway, running from Interstate 10 south to Blanding Boulevard. Those tolls will not be limited to express lanes and will vary from 20 cents to 85 cents, depending on how long you say on the 12-mile highway.