JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The first toll structure in Jacksonville in 28 years went up last weekend without any fanfare.
While traffic was detoured between Interstate 95 and Old St. Augustine Road early Sunday morning, construction crews put up the first toll gantry on I-295. The gantry will be part of a system to electronically collect tolls for the use of express lanes that are due to open early next year, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.
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Vehicles will pass under the gantry at highway speeds to pay for use of the new lanes that will run along I-295 between the Buckman Bridge and J. Turner Butler Boulevard.
This DOT project consists of two new 12-foot travel lanes in each direction to offer motorists a choice to use the lanes for a fee, or remain on the non-tolled portion of I-295.
Two cranes and more than 80 large bolts were used to connect the overhead gantry with the ground-mounted posts. The bolts were tightened using sledgehammers to ensure the gantry remains permanently fixed overhead.
DOT calls express lanes an “expressway within an expressway,” where express lanes are separated from general use lanes. The toll rate for express lanes will vary depending on the amount of traffic within the express lanes.
Not all drivers are excited about the new option.
“I don’t want to pay the toll at all. I mean, I think we have enough taxes to be able to do that,” resident John Edwards said. "I’d prefer to see us do things like maybe have a rail system, a real rail system in town that really gets people through Northeast Florida a little bit more easily.”
But others think the new tollway will improve traffic flow in the area.
“It’s a little nerve-racking now while the construction is going on, makes you nervous being around the big vehicles, but I think it will straighten out when it calms down and be really nice,” Bernie Leonard said.
Generally, fewer cars using the lanes means a less expensive toll. Dynamic message signs will show the current toll rate. Due to electronic tolling through the statewide SunPass system, cars are not required to stop to pay the toll.
Similar tolled express lanes will be used next year along State Road 23, which will become the First Coast Expressway, when construction is completed from New World Avenue in Duval County to Blanding Boulevard in Clay County. Eventually, the highway will connect Interstate 10 to Blanding Boulevard.
Leading up to the addition of the tolls, the FDOT has been trying to educate people about the SunPass program, which is common in south and central Florida, but new to the Jacksonville area.
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