By DONALD WITTKOWSKI and MADDY VITALE
Motorists will see tolls going up 50 cents on the five Ocean Drive bridges connecting the Cape May County beach communities from Ocean City to Cape May.
The toll increase went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, raising the bridge fare to $2.50.
The Cape May County Bridge Commission’s five bridges include the Ocean City-Longport Bridge, the Corsons Inlet Bridge (between Ocean City and Strathmere), the Townsends Inlet Bridge (between Sea Isle City and Avalon), the Grassy Sound Bridge (between Stone Harbor and North Wildwood) and the Middle Thorofare Bridge (between Wildwood Crest and Cape May).
Karen Coughlin, executive director of the bridge commission, said Tuesday that there were signs posted on March 1 at each toll booth that stated the toll increase would go into effect on March 15.
“Collectors at all of the bridges have been telling me that motorists have been trying to pay the $2.50 since the signs went up two weeks ago, so I don’t foresee issues for tomorrow,” Coughlin said of Wednesday’s additional cost for the tolls.
Tolls also will increase by 50 cents in 2024 as part of a three-stage fare hike approved by the commission in 2021 to generate additional revenue for bridge maintenance and repair projects.
With the toll increases, revenue is projected to increase to $5.1 million in 2023 and $6.1 million in 2024.
Boosted by the first phase of toll hikes, the nearly $4.1 million in revenue that was realized in 2022 was close to the $4.2 million in revenue that the commission had projected.
Previously, the commission depended on Cape May County to finance all of the maintenance, repairs and upgrades to the bridges. With the toll hikes, the commission will be able to use its own funding to help pay for maintenance and repairs projects.
The bridges are old and often need repair and maintenance to keep them in operation. The Townsends Inlet, Corsons Inlet, Middle Thorofare and Grassy Sound bridges date to the 1930s or 1940s.
The Ocean City-Longport Bridge, built in 2002, is the commission’s only modern span operated by the commission, but it too needs repairs and maintenance to keep it operational.
About 85 percent of the bridge customers pay their fares using the E-ZPass automated toll system.
Most of the other customers pay in cash, but a small number of motorists still use the paper toll tickets once sold by the bridge commission.
The commission stopped selling the tickets starting in 2018 when it introduced the E-ZPass system. However, there are old tickets still out there that have no expiration date, allowing motorists to use them indefinitely for a discount in the toll rate.
The paper tickets allow motorists to pay just $1.20 for the toll, but officials urge motorists to use up the antiquated tickets.