Va., Md. make changes to tolling amid COVID-19 pandemic

Virginia and Maryland are making some tolling changes amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Virginia

In addition to expanding all-electronic tolling where possible, Virginia is planning to reduce the minimum amount required in E-ZPass accounts from $35 to $20 within the next few days, Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine told WTOP.

Virginia saw a bump in E-ZPass orders Wednesday, as more people aim to reduce their interactions with others amid social distancing efforts. The transponders themselves are free.

While half of Virginia’s 16 toll facilities are always E-ZPass or video tolling only, the other half need to make changes to limit risks during the COVID-19 crisis by reducing or eliminating the use of cash.

“There are three in particular that we’re going to have to be a little bit more creative with,” Valentine told reporters Wednesday.

The Dulles Greenway is the one in Northern Virginia that is not set up at this point to be totally E-ZPass only, but drivers can use an E-ZPass.

The Greenway also has a credit card payment option.

Like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel between Eastern Shore and Virginia Beach and the Richmond toll facilities including the Powhite Parkway, new safety precautions include cleaning of toll booths, keeping cash separate between shifts and ensuring hand sanitizer is available.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is looking at adding credit card machines outside their toll booths.

The Dulles Toll Road, operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, is still allowing cash payments for now, under the safety guidelines laid out by the state for gloves, hand sanitizer and separation of cash between shifts.

“We’re taking the recommended safety precautions for toll booth operators and discussing options regarding the toll collection system. We’ll notify the public of any changes to the current system,” spokeswoman Athena Hernandez said in an email.

Anyone who wants to avoid using cash can order an E-ZPass online or pick one up during their grocery trips at selected stores. DMV locations across the state — which usually offer E-ZPass — are closed.

“You can order one for free, we will deliver it to you,” Valentine said.

Drivers who are still paying with cash are encouraged to use exact change.

“It’s very much, you know, like a pickup or delivery at a restaurant. We’re trying to make that transaction as clean as possible,” Valentine said.

Valentine also promoted the potential expansion of the new toll payment app that works on 12 of Virginia’s 16 roads with an 85 cent service fee.

The always electronic toll prices on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway and the privately operated 95/395 Express Lanes and 495 Express Lanes have dropped dramatically compared to usual levels the last two weeks as so many fewer drivers have hit the road each day.

Maryland

Maryland, which directly controls all of its toll facilities, ended the use of cash at toll booths last week. Maryland is already in the process of permanently switching to all electronic tolls.

Drivers without an E-ZPass get bills in the mail, but anyone driving a rental car should be cautious about potential extra fees.

On Thursday, the Maryland Transportation Authority Board (MdTA) formally approved separate previously planned changes to start July 1 that lower the penalty for late payment of toll bills sent through the mail and providing an incentive to pay those bills more quickly to avoid getting the bill in the mail in the first place.

Starting this summer, the penalty for failing to pay a video toll bill within 45 days will drop from $50 to $25.

Drivers will also get a 15% discount on the higher video toll rate, up to $5 off, if they pay online before the bill is mailed.

Originally, that change had been planned to start in December, but it will now launch July 1.

The MdTA is also delaying a program allowing direct credit card billing of tolls from June to July to allow all of the programs to launch at once.

Under that program, rather than maintaining an E-ZPass account balance, drivers will be able to register their license plates and credit cards with the state. The charge will match the cash toll rates where toll booths are available and will be 25% higher than the E-ZPass toll rate on roads like the Intercounty Connector that are electronic only.

Video tolling, without the registration, costs drivers 50% more than the regular price.

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