TAMPA — Motorists traveling between Linebaugh and Hillsborough avenues on the Veterans Expressway this weekend might notice something missing: tollbooths.
But that’s not to say they are riding for free.
Starting Friday night, the stretch will be a cash-free, tollbooth-free toll road as the Florida Department of Transportation continues with its plans to eliminate tollbooths. Motorists will be charged through SunPass accounts or the toll-by-plate program, which involves photographing license tags of vehicles and sending bills to the registered owners.
The first phase-out of the staffed toll plazas begins at 9 p.m. Friday, said Christa Deason, spokeswoman for the department. Motorists will need either a SunPass or pay the toll through the mail at a higher price, she said.
She urged motorists not to go through toll plaza cash lanes, as they will be closed, and unstaffed lanes will not have change baskets. All motorists are directed to pass through the SunPass lanes, even if they don’t have a SunPass transponder in their vehicles, she said. Removal of the toll plaza structures will take several months.
Those without the transponder will get their license tag photographed and mailed a bill, she said.
“You save quite a bit of money with the SunPass,” she said. A $2.50 administrative fee is tacked onto every toll that is mailed to vehicle owners, she said.
The goal is to get the Veterans Expressway cash-free before shuttering the toll plazas in Pasco and Hernando counties along the North Suncoast Parkway, the 42-mile parkway portion that runs north of Van Dyke Road to U.S. 98 in Hernando County, Deason said.
“We are putting that off for a couple of years,” she said.
As for all those toll takers in their trademark Florida-style shirts, they are being offered positions elsewhere in the state, Deason said. Some have retired, others have moved on.
“They’ve known about this for two years,” she said. “The contractor they work for is finding them placement in other toll plazas.”
The work is part of an overall $386 million project that began last year with the widening and destaffing of toll plazas on the Veterans Expressway and will end with electronic toll collections along the entire 57-mile State Road 589 corridor from Tampa to U.S. 98 in Hernando County.
The plans also call for express lanes from just north of Hillsborough Avenue to the Dale Mabry spur.
Later this summer, tollbooth conversions will take place at the Gunn Highway and Hutchison Road ramps, Deason said.