By Donald Wittkowski
Say goodbye to those discount tickets that give motorists a break on the toll for the five bridges connecting Cape May County’s seashore towns along the scenic Ocean Drive.
The Cape May County Bridge Commission will stop selling the tickets starting Aug. 1 as part of its introduction of the automated E-ZPass toll system.
However, there are old tickets still out there that have no expiration date, allowing motorists to use them indefinitely, commission officials said.
“There were tickets put out years ago that said no expiration,” explained Karen Coughlin, the commission’s executive director.
Coughlin could not say how many tickets the commission normally sells each year. She also didn’t know the total number of unused tickets that are still in the hands of motorists.
Tickets cost $1.20, compared to the regular toll of $1.50, making them popular with local commuters. Lewis Donofrio, the commission’s staff engineer, estimated that motorists have been using tickets on the bridges since the 1950s.
The commission operates the Ocean City-Longport Bridge, the Townsends Inlet Bridge, the Corsons Inlet Bridge, the Middle Thorofare Bridge and the Grassy Sound Bridge along the Ocean Drive coastal route.
Drivers now have their choice of paying their fares using tickets, cash or E-ZPass on all five commission bridges.
The electronic E-ZPass toll system was introduced by the commission in the spring to speed up the flow of bridge traffic. For motorists who have E-ZPass accounts, it means they no longer have to fumble around for cash or coins to pay their tolls the slower, old-fashioned way.
Drivers have the option of paying with discount tickets, even if they have E-ZPass accounts. Toll-takers, though, must manually cancel out the E-ZPass transaction to accept the tickets, slowing down the process for collecting fares.
“Tickets are a major delay, and a pain for the system,” Donofrio said.
Hoping to avoid those delays, the bridge commission voted at its July 19 board meeting to stop the sale of tickets beginning Aug. 1. Cash transactions will continue.
The commission has been discussing the possibility of starting an E-ZPass discount program to replace the tickets, but has not yet worked out the plan.
E-ZPass transactions represent 69.6 percent of the total traffic over the bridges, Donofrio said.
With E-ZPass now in place, the commission’s bridges are compatible with the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway, the major toll roads serving the Jersey Shore.
Originally, the commission planned a toll increase coinciding with the arrival of E-ZPass, but later backed off. Patrick Rosenello, the commission’s chairman, has said the toll will remain $1.50 through this summer and perhaps next year.
However, Rosenello anticipates a toll hike will be required at some point to help Cape May County finance a major construction program for the bridges, including the possible replacement of the aging Townsends Inlet and Middle Thorofare bridges.