Miami took last cash toll on Gratigny FL924 Sunday night - now AET
By Peter Samuel
The last cash customer went through the old 17-lane mainline toll plaza of the FL924 Gratigny Parkway of the Miami Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) in Opa-Locka in the northwest suburbs of Miami at 11:57pm Sunday, paying the $1.25 cash toll for a car. As midnight approached workers began moving big red construction barrels in toward the central lanes to block off the 'belly-out/belly-in' of the old mainline plaza.
At the same time a new all-electronic toll (AET) gantry constructed on the approach to the old toll plaza area 450m, 1500ft away from the booths (called 42nd Av toll point) began collecting tolls set at half those previously collected at the mainline plaza - 50c cash for cars with transponders, 65c for toll-by-plate image based tolls.
Also a completely new toll point began AET about 3km (1.8 miles) west to pick up a toll for motorists who previously drove free in a western segment of the Gratigny (this is now called a 57th Av toll point).
Spreading the toll
MDX is an innovator in making use of the lower operations costs of all-electronic tolling to spread tolls, adding toll points to collect from more of the traffic, while reducing the toll at each point. This is planned for other tollroads in the area as they go AET.
see table nearby
All-transponder tolling suggested but toll-by-plate implemented
MDX seems to have deployed a rather tricky communications strategy to increase transponder uptake in the marketing of AET by suggesting the only option for motorists to use the tollroad after AET was to have a transponder. For example "How do I use..." makes no mention of a camera-based toll-by-plate or video toll option.
Some local news outlets picked up this story that it was transponder-only tolling that was being introduced, giving "warnings" that drivers "must now have" a transponder.
That was never the plan and those without a transponder are not being treated as violators but simply charged a higher toll-by-plate toll rate and billed in the mail. The bill for a car on the Gratigny at each toll point is a tiny 50c with a transponder and 65c toll-by-plate, the 15c premium likely much too low to recover processing costs - at least unless a number of tolls are consolidated and billed, say, monthly.
Cindy Polo of MDX tells us the Gratigny - a 3+3 lane expressway - is very much a commuter road with high transponder usage. In recent weeks they have been getting 85% transponder usage in peakhours and 80% off-peak - perhaps pushed up by the notion that a transponder is now compulsory.
UPDATE: Cindy Polo explains their communications strategy this way: "We try to focus on SunPass (transponder account) because it is the option that saves drivers the most amount of money. Also when media tries to get a sound bite it's challenging to explain all the details."
She says that new transponder accounts have indeed shot up with publicity for the Gratigny conversion. From about 500 a week they went to 3,929 and 5,470 in the past two weeks. SunPass transponders are issued by the Turnpike but can be used on toll facilities throughout Florida. UPDATE 2010-06-08 15:10
Work is well advanced on the next conversion to AET - the most southerly tollroad pair the Don Shula Expressway FL874 and Snapper Creek Expressway FL878. That is due within the next couple of months.
Work will then move to the biggest MDX tollroads, the Dolphin Expressway FL836 and the Airport Expressway FL112 that lead west out of downtown Miami.
The schedule for those two is not clear, but the whole job was originally planned to be complete before the end of 2012.
Florida's Turnpike HEFT
A very large AET conversion is under way at the Florida Turnpike HEFT tollroad FL821 that forms a belt route around the western and northern edges of the Miami area. That is due to come online next year.
BACKGROUND: MDX operates five mostly short but heavily trafficked urban tollroads with a total of 54 centerline-km, 33.7 centerline miles.
In 2009 $113.1m in tolls was collected, down 3% on the previous year. Operations costs are $35m for cash flow of $78m. Debt service however was $70m.
The Gratigny last year pulled in just $11.75m in tolls, having declined for two straight years - partly the great recession but also the uptake of transponders and their lower rate than cash. Toll transactions at the one toll point then in use were 10.94m (average daily 30k).
This pike is hampered in attracting traffic to justify its capacity (2 to 3 times the 30k it carries) by the lack of a quality link to I-95 on its eastern end - a 2.8 mile, 4.5km missing link along NW119 St with five major at-grade intersections and a heavily limiting signalized surface arterial format of center turns.
Its western end forms the beginning of I-75 but it would be helped by a short extension 3.9km, 2.4 miles west to the Florida's Turnpike HEFT (FL821) and to routes further west.
TERMINOLOGY: MDX is using the term Open Road Tolling (ORT) for what is more widely known as all-electronic tolling or AET - the complete lack of on-road cash toll collection, and use of transponders and cameras to identify vehicles and levy tolls. They are of course entitled to call it anything they want but in our book they implemented ORT on some of the major MDX tollroads nearly a decade ago when they went to multilane highway speed (open road) electronic tolling alongside cash - one of UTS' first big system contracts.
The distinctive cable stayed canopy they call The Wing installed on the eastern end of the FL836 Dolphin was open road tolling on the left in two open road lanes. Alongside it are six cash/roll-through ET lanes. That was called ORT at the time.
The first all-electronic toll (AET) point in the MDX system opened in 2007 when an extension of the FL836 Dolphin was opened west of the HEFT without any cash collection.
Contractors: ETC Corp of the Dallas TX area has a large $124m contract for MDX's five expressway all-electronic toll conversion 2010-2022 including:
- $38m for in-lane front end equipment including readers, lane controllers, plaza hosts and associated software and transponders
-$86m for ten years of operations including back end accounts management, customer service and violations processing.
Faneuil is providing continuing cash toll collection during the 3-year phase-out of cash. (CORRECTION MADE HERE 06/08 10:45)
MDX has two general engineering consultants for the AET procurement and implementation - HNTB and EAC Consulting. HNTB is the nationwide company hat acts as GEC for a slew of toll authorities around the US. EAC, a local Miami firm of engineers has been involved from the beginning of the planning of AET. (ADDITION - also see http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/4804)
The new toll system uses a single gantry and deploys Encompass 6 TransCore readers. It is specified as being capable of supporting dynamic pricing, but there are no present plans to implement this.
MDX has a website devoted to the current AET transition: