Monday morning's commute along Interstate 295 between the Buckman Bridge and Interstate 95 could be significantly faster, but it will cost you.
On Saturday, May 18, the new Interstate 295 express lanes will officially open, though no one will pay to use them until Monday. The lanes start at the foot of the Buckman Bridge on the Mandarin side and extend in both directions to Interstate 95 near The Avenues.
“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. Non-peak travel times, express lane use will be free,” said FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault in an email to WJCT News.
Peak travel times along that section of I-295 are from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
During those times, express lane users will pay a minimum toll of 50 cents, which may be adjusted higher in 5-cent increments based on the level of traffic congestion.
Drivers will be able to see the posted price before they enter the express lanes, FDOT spokesman Hampton Ray said. Drivers also need to be aware that once they enter the lanes they have limited exit opportunities (see map).
A price cap hasn’t been announced, but Ray said the system has a mechanism built in to ensure that a driver who enters the toll lanes at one price doesn’t pay a higher rate if the congestion rate rises after entering the lanes.
To use the lanes, drivers must have a properly mounted SunPass or other approved transponder. For motorcyclists, the transponders can still be read when carried inside a saddle bag.
The automated toll system will not accept cash or credits cards.
“Express Lanes have multiple benefits, including improved travel times, making trips more predictable. We know 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 using the latest in congestion management technology,” said FDOT District Two Secretary Greg Evans.
Motorists can purchase the SunPass transponders, which can be used on toll roads across Florida, at SunPass.com. Florida is also a member of the E-PASS Xtra program, a single toll road transponder that works in 18 states, including Maine and Illinois.
Motorists that use the express lanes without a transponder will be fined $25 n during the congestion pricing hours, according to Hampton.
However, Hampton added a SunPass is not required during the non-peak hours. During non-peak hours the lanes are open to motorists.
This weekend's are the first of two sets of express lanes set to open on I-295 – the other will be from State Road 9B to Butler Boulevard, a $139.9 million project that began in 2016. An opening date hasn’t been set yet for that set of toll lanes.
And this won't be the first time Jacksonville motorists have faced tolls. In 1988, Jacksonville's toll booths at the city's bridges were done away with by then-Mayor Tommy Hazouri, according to jaxhistory.org.
WJCT's Cyd Hoskinson contributed to this report.