Virginia considering new E-ZPass program

Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

Virginia is looking to sweeten the deal for drivers who want to use E-ZPass to pay tolls.

With new toll roads set to open around the state over the next several years, state officials expect demand for the E-ZPass to double, an addition of about 500,000 users.

Three new facilities opening at the end of this year, including the express lanes along the Beltway, won't even have any toll booths, instead charging drivers through E-ZPass or sending scofflaws fines in the mail.

Proposed Virginia E-ZPass On the Go program
-Pay $35 in pre-paid tolls for transponder
-Can use $15 of toll money right away; must register to access remaining $20
-No monthly fee
-Available at local retailers
Maryland E-ZPass On the Go program
-$9 for standard windshield transponder, $33 for license plate transponder
-$25 in pre-paid tolls
-$1.50 monthly maintenance fee if pass used less than three times per month
-Available at local retailers

So the Virginia Department of Transportation is working on a program to offer E-ZPass transponders at retail locations. The units cost $35, but that full amount would be available to pay tolls, John Lawson, chief financial officer of the Virginia Department of Transportation, told the Commonwealth Transportation Board Wednesday.

The transponders could be available at big-box retailers, such as Walmart or Target, pharmacies or grocery stores as soon as July 1.

Drivers would be able to use $15 of the $35 transponder cost to pay tolls right away, but would have to register the unit before they can use the remaining $20.

Virginia drivers can now get E-ZPass units only at customer service centers in Herndon, Richmond or Gloucester Point or through the mail. Drivers now pay a $25 security deposit, unless they make automatic money transfers from bank accounts to their E-ZPass accounts.

Virginia's new deal is better than the E-ZPass program offered by Maryland, which sells standard transponders for $9 and requires $25 in pre-paid tolls. Maryland also charges a monthly $1.50 maintenance fee if drivers use the pass less than three times a month.

Virginia's new plan could also attract out-of-state shoppers. E-ZPass users now search for the best deals and each of the 14 states between Maine and Illinois that participate in the E-ZPass program has its own rates and rules.

Lawson estimated that the 500,000 new transponders would cost the state $6.3 million. But VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said the program is likely to make the passes more attractive to drivers.

"E-ZPass is the easiest and most efficient way to pay for your tolls," she said. "E-ZPass allows us to eliminate toll booths, and by doing that traffic speeds up. It's a much more efficient flow of traffic by using the E-ZPass."

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