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Electronic tolls roll out Friday on Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway

TAMPA — Drivers on the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway will soon find their cash is no good.

Starting Friday, the roadway debuts an all-electronic tolling system.

Drivers will not face additional charges as a result of the change, said Susan Chrzan, a spokeswoman for the Tampa Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, which maintains the 15-mile limited access highway connecting Brandon to Gandy Boulevard in Tampa.

To use the Selmon Expressway, motorists will choose one of two billing methods—a prepaid SunPass or "We Bill You," a video monitoring system that will send monthly bills in the mail.

Tolls for SunPass users range from 50 cents to $1.50, depending on where they are on the expressway. That won't change. Neither will the cost for motorists without SunPasses.

Under the new system, Selmon Expressway users without SunPasses will still pay an extra 25 cents at each booth. But they'll get their bills in the mail after a video camera takes a picture of their license plates.

Drivers who get bills in the mail and don't pay could face late fees, holds on license plate registrations or traffic citations.

The expressway authority expects the switch to shave about $1.5 million from its more than $10 million annual operating budget, which includes equipment maintenance, Chrzan said.

In its marketing campaign, the authority touts the new system, which eliminates the need to slow down, stop or have cash on the road, as safer and more convenient.

"Removing the cash toll booths does increase safety tremendously," said Sonyha Rodriguez-Miller, a spokeswoman for Florida's Turnpike Enterprise, which operates several expressways in the state and has reduced the number of booths at seven toll plazas on the turnpike system since 2007.

Rodriguez-Miller said the turnpike has seen a 51 percent reduction in the overall crash rate at or near toll plazas since the change.

With cash tolls disappearing, drivers appear to be buying more SunPasses. In the past six months, Chrzan said, the percentage of Selmon Expressway users with SunPasses has grown from 72 percent to 78 percent.

While the change could enhance efficiency and safety, slashing cash tolls definitely will affect many who have worked as toll collectors on the expressway.

Of the 64 workers on the Selmon Expressway, about half have or will be moved to different tolling points on roadways, including the Polk Parkway, the Veterans Expressway and the Sunshine Skyway bridge, said Andrew Clayton, program director for revenue collection services at Faneuil Inc., the contracting company that staffs the expressway.

Fourteen workers will retire, while 20 will lose their jobs, Clayton said.

The staffing company is helping laid off workers find employment, offering resume writing workshops, computer and Internet access for job searches and tips on using online job databases, he said.

"I think people know that we are doing everything we can do to keep them gainfully employed," Clayton said. "People were very upbeat."

Many toll collectors, approached by a reporter at collection sites, declined to comment, saying they had been told not to speak with the media. One said that many drivers are sympathetic to the workers.

A regular Selmon Expressway user said he was sad for the toll workers losing their jobs, but said the change will not affect him personally.

The SunPass "has really benefitted me as far as (reducing) wear and tear on my car and getting (to work) quicker," said Roger Daugherty, 57, a Seffner resident who works in downtown Tampa.

Holly Wagner, 42, who lives in South Tampa, takes the expressway three or four times a week if she is running late to work.

She said she never bought a SunPass because she had bad experiences with other automatic payment systems.

Now, getting it seems to be the more convenient option.

"It probably wouldn't be a problem," she said. "I guess I'm going to get one."

Drivers can buy the SunPass Mini sticker at Publix, CVS or AAA locations for $4.99.

Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 661-2441 or njayakrishna@sptimes.com.

Electronic tolls roll out Friday on Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway 09/15/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 1:26pm]
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