JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The first dedicated express lanes in Northeast Florida will open Saturday, and if you use them during peak travel hours starting Monday, it'll cost you a little something.
The Florida Department of Transportation announced Monday that the new express lanes between Interstate 95 and the Buckman Bridge will be available for use starting this weekend. FDOT has determined that tolls will be only be collected 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.
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.
Most motorists think the express lanes are a good option.
"The traffic is so bad in the evenings, everybody getting off of work, and I think it will make a big difference," Arthur Thomas said.
"It will be good to have that option that if things do back up, if there are accidents or things like that, to have the other option to be able to use that to be able to get there quicker," Brendan Mcgoey said.
"I would love to use the express lane, but maybe not pay the toll," Loralea Burnett said.
People old enough to remember tolls on three downtown bridges and J. Turner Butler Boulevard may remember that Jacksonville voters approved a half-cent sales tax in 1987 to eliminate them.
Tommy Hazouri, who was Jacksonville mayor at the time, and was just elected Tuesday to his second term as an at-large City Council member.
"They won’t put (tolls) on the bridges. I guarantee you they won’t do that, or else I’ll be telling everybody to give that half-cent tax back to the people," Hazouri said. "And they’re not going to put them on the road we took them off. That is a given, and you can take that one to the toll bank."
FDOT agrees we won't see tolls back on highways controlled by Jacksonville -- only state roads.
"The half-cent sales tax that was instituted in 1988, that was just for JTA projects," FDOT spokesman Hampton Ray said. "This is a state facility. The great thing is the existing lanes on the roadway will remain free. It is a choice to take this road."
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.
FDOT video explainer of express lanes
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