Group envisions Maine-to-Florida E-ZPass toll system on I-95

Posted April 15, 2012, at 7:58 a.m.

It takes Galloway Township resident Earl Jensen a day and a half to drive down Interstate 95 to his second home in St. Augustine, Fla. So he doesn’t want the trek to take any longer than it has to.

Jensen, who said he makes the drive to and from Florida about six times a year, purchased the quick toll cards for every state so he can swipe a card and pass through the tolls instead of having to wait in line and pay the toll operator every time.

“It’s so much faster,” he said. “A lot of time the tolls say you have to have exact change and you get to the booth and there is no one there.”

And if plans by an interstate agency move ahead, Jensen’s drive to Florida could soon become E-Z-er.

The Interagency Group — the organization that oversees E-ZPass — is working with southern states to allow motorists to use the system along the entire I-95 corridor from Maine to Florida.

P.J. Wilkins, the organization’s executive director, said IAG is coordinating with state-run toll agencies in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida so they can adopt the system that allows drivers to move through tolls at a higher rate of speed.

Twenty-two million customers use E-ZPass, a 17-year-old program that started with seven agencies in three states, Wilkins said.

“We’ve grown a lot, and we’re looking for ways to continue growing,” he said.

Other states have toll agencies with their own system, but the Interagency Group is working with them to update their equipment so they can also accept E-ZPass, Wilkins said. The immediate plan is to put E-ZPass on the entire I-95 corridor, and in the long term to have the system available nationwide, he said. There are no timetables for these initiatives, he said.

“(I-95) is a very important highway,” he said. “If we can do that, we’ll get the entire eastern seaboard.”

Millville resident Frank Thon drives a tractor trailer to Miami twice a week to pick up shipments of flowers. Having E-ZPass and the quick toll cards in the other states saves him considerable time and gas from not having to stop at all the toll booths.

“Especially in the summer time,” he said. “You can sit in line at a toll for up to 40 minutes.”

Currently, the North Carolina Turnpike Authority has a “Quick Pass” system that works like E-ZPass but does not accept the E-ZPass system.

But in February, the Interagency Group’s board approved expanding its membership to North Carolina, and Wilkins said they hope to complete it by summer. They are also talking to the other southern states along I-95.

“We’re working now to identify what the obstacles are: How do we work together and how to transfer the funds,” he said. “We’re eager to get some of these things going.”

Before other states join, the state agencies will update equipment when it’s practical for them, Wilkins said. IAG will not supply funds to the local agencies, he said.

Once the change is complete, E-ZPass lanes will be opened in North Carolina and the other states, and those customers will know they can use E-ZPass when they travel through the northern states.

“All toll agencies like to see people use their electronic lanes,” Wilkins said. “Most of the agencies want to be available to us. To some, it will be a cost for new equipment and they’ll do it when the time is right.”

In North Carolina, the toll agency would sell plastic cases for Quick Pass or Quick Pass and E-ZPass, Wilkins said.

“The benefit is for the customers so they can have seamless travel up and down the corridor,” he said. “Our customers who have it want to use it wherever they may be. It will make people’s lives a little bit easier.”

Quick Pass Marketing Director Mike Gentry said he hopes to implement E-ZPass by August. Though they do not have statistics for how many out-of-state drivers use North Carolina highways, Gentry said he believes E-ZPass will make a difference.

He said many new residents said they will wait until E-ZPass is available before they register with Quick Pass.

“It definitely will make a good impact,” he said.

AAA does not track the number of people from the area who drive to Florida, but Tracy Noble, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the addition of E-ZPass lanes in the south will add convenience for those southbound drivers.

But Noble said she does not expect the addition of E-ZPass lanes to change driving habits overall.

“It does help the flow of traffic, and (drivers) do not need to sit (in line at tolls),” she said. “I don’t know if there will be a lot of long-distance driving because of the high cost of fuel.”

Kevin Rehmann, spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which oversees the Atlantic City Expressway, said the agency sees the spread of E-ZPass as another reason to use it in its promotional campaigns.

“It’s great because it will make it more popular,” he said. “It’s even more of a reason to love it.”

© 2012 The Press of Atlantic City (Pleasantville, N.J.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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