County to Charge for Bridge Toll Transponders

FORT MYERS, FL, June 12, 2001 --Within two to three months, Lee County will begin selling LeeWay “transponders” to customers in order to recoup costs that until now had been covered by a federal grant. LeeWay is the county’s Electronic Toll Collection System. The Board of Lee County Commissioners unanimously approved the change today. Transponders will cost $25 plus tax – the same as transponders for the Florida Department of Transportation’s SunPass toll system. LeeWay operates using an electronic transponder, installed on the windshield inside your vehicle. As you pass through the toll plaza, an overhead antenna reads the transponder and automatically deducts the correct toll amount from your prepaid toll account. Motorists also cannot participate in the county’s Variable Pricing (Discount) Tolls Program unless they have a transponder and prepaid account. With a LeeWay prepaid discount program, motorists get a 50 percent discount off the $1 toll during selected "off peak" hours as an incentive to change driving habits from peak to off peak times. Those off peak times are Monday through Friday 6:30-to-7 a.m., 9-to-11 a.m., 2-to-4 p.m., and 6:30-to-7 p.m. Lee County established the Electronic Tolls and Variable Pricing programs in 1997 using a $20 million federal grant, of which some of the money was used to buy 80,000 transponders for the program. The grant ends August 3, 2001 and as the batteries in the transponders begin to fail, new transponders with replaceable batteries will have to be purchased. Through the new $25 charge, the county will recoup most of its costs for new transponders (the county currently can purchase them for $29) and avoid having to use operational funds to subsidize the program. The Board also set a public hearing for 5 p.m. June 26 to consider changes to the Electronic Toll Collection Program that would eliminate the option of using a joint transponder/coin drop option. Customers currently participating in the coin drop option will no longer be allowed to drop $.50 in the lanes each passage, but will be required to establish a prepaid account to deduct $.50 from their account electronically. In August 2000, the county began using express “transponder” lanes on the Midpoint Memorial Bridge. Express Lanes allow prepaid program customers to navigate the toll plaza without having to come to a stop. The motorist's transponder is simply read at speeds up to 15 miles per hour and his or her account is deducted. LeeWay customers and the city councils of Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and Sanibel were surveyed and given presentations on the proposed changes and have given their support.