Traveling over Cape May County’s five toll bridges is anything but easy if you don’t have cash.
But that could change.
The county Bridge Commission is looking into using E-ZPass, an electric toll-collection system used on the Atlantic City Expressway and Garden State Parkway, Chairman Patrick Rosenello said.
Rosenello said he hopes the implementation of E-ZPass, should it move forward, increases the number of drivers using the bridges.
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The commission reported an operating loss of $533,000 last year, according to its annual financial documents.
“The tolls that we collect on the bridges cannot cover the operation of the bridges,” Rosenello said, adding the tolls do not factor into costs for repairs of the structures.
The bridges saw toll revenue fall about $30,000 — or about 1 percent — in 2015 from the prior year, according to the commission’s financial documents.
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The decrease was due to fewer trips being made over the Townsends Inlet bridge that connects Avalon and Sea Isle City. The bridge was shut repeatedly after Hurricane Sandy, first from damage to the road leading to the bridge, then as part of a $5 million repair project, including from January to June last year.
Going to E-ZPass would mark a significant change to the Ocean Drive bridges that span from Ocean City to Cape May, where drivers have had to pay cash since the structures were first built in the 1940s. The toll for a regular vehicle is $1.50.
“The chief complaint, the No. 1 complaint, from customers on the bridges is the lack of E-ZPass,” said Rosenello, who’s also the mayor of North Wildwood.
He said the commission has been working with the South Jersey Transportation Authority and a toll consultant on studying the possibility.
But he said any change to the tolling structure on the bridges would take time.
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The Cape May County Bridge Commission operates the Middle Thorofare connecting Cape May and Wildwood Crest, the Grassy Sound Bridge linking up North Wildwood and Stone Harbor, the Townsends Inlet Bridge between Avalon and Sea Isle City, the Corsons Inlet Bridge between Strathmere and Ocean City and the Ocean City Longport Bridge.
Nearly 80 percent of vehicles on the parkway are enrolled in E-ZPass, according to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and the SJTA reported about 72 percent of drivers on the expressway use E-ZPass.
Not everyone sees the need for E-ZPass.
Tim Estlow, 17, of Cape May Court House, works beside one of the bridges in question in his job at Dad’s Place, a boat-renting and fishing pier near the Grassy Sound Bridge.
He worries E-ZPass could reduce the number of toll-taker jobs, something that happened as more people used E-ZPass on other roads.
“There’s a guy who has a job up there collecting tolls, so I don’t think it would be positive,” Estlow said. “I think it’s working fine the way it is.”
Rosenello said exploring E-ZPass is “a lengthy process with a lot of moving parts. We expect that in the coming months that we’ll have more information.”
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