Gridlock Guy: Linking all states’ toll roads not easy

  • Doug Turnbull
  • For the AJC
1:03 p.m Friday, Nov. 3, 2017 Metro Atlanta / State news
Georgia’s State Road and Tollway Authority has forged agreements with Florida and North Carolina for those states’ SunPass and Quick Pass, respectively, to work in Georgia’s lanes and for Peach Pass to work in those states. Highway officials across the country are lobbying to link all 50 states. PeachPass.com

When we use things, we mostly just set it and forget it. Forgive this for sounding like an infomercial. That principle applies to the Peach Pass that we stick just under our rearview mirrors. We put money in our PeachPass.com accounts and drive until we have to refill it again. Georgia’s State Road and Tollway Authority has forged agreements with Florida and North Carolina for those states’ SunPass and Quick Pass, respectively, to work in Georgia’s lanes and vice-versa. But inside and outside these three states, toll interconnectivity becomes trickier, as different systems enforce tolls differently.

AJC reader Jay Brower splits his time between Georgia and Florida and has both a Peach Pass and SunPass on his car. He emailed us to see how he should handle so many trips in both states. Brower doesn’t have to use both, SRTA said. In fact, he shouldn’t. In a detailed explanation, SRTA said that having two states’ toll passes on a car sometimes can double-charge the motorist. But the states’ customer service reps should expunge the extra charge, if the motorist tells them.

Making states’ toll systems interoperable is a challenge. Florida normally uses cameras to read license plates. If the plate is registered with either Florida, North Carolina or Georgia’s toll system correctly, then they charge the proper account. Georgia also uses video tolling as a backup system, but the state’s primary pass-reading system is newer and reads Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida toll pass transponders seamlessly. SRTA said Georgia’s system is also more accurate. Because our stately neighbors use license plate ID’s, SRTA recommends Georgian’s still log their plate info when registering a Peach Pass.

There is a larger plan to make all tolls seamless between states. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act called for all U.S. electronic tolling to work together by October 2016. But without funding, this didn’t happen. So SRTA has worked closely with industry associations and the Federal Highway Administration to add other states in the region to a seamless toll system. Sometime in 2018, they hope to have South Carolina and Texas in the system, with Louisiana and Colorado to come.

A bigger puzzle and accomplishment for Georgia will be working with the northeast’s E-Z Pass. However, E-Z Pass states lack both widespread equipment to read Peach Pass transponders and video passing license plates. Making Peach Passes work in New England will take federal funding, something for which various toll authorities are campaigning.

This is all very complex and takes cooperation from all sides - and money. And while tolling is not the kind of thing any motorists wants to sing “Kumbaya” for, most of us use the heck out of the roads. Any way to make paying the due toll easier is welcome. Truthfully, people aren’t driving ten states away very often, so making every toll system from sea to shining sea compatible isn’t on the edge of tomorrow.

But after sifting through some facts SRTA shared, Georgians can at least take comfort in knowing that the state has the newest toll equipment and is working hard to make it work with our neighboring states. And Peach Passes already work on the toll lanes on I-85 in Gwinnett and I-75 in Henry County, but will also function just the same for the I-75 and I-575 reversible lanes in Cobb and Cherokee counties in 2018.

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