N.C. links Quick Pass toll-collection system to E-ZPass used in 14 states

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comDecember 27, 2012 

Drivers will have the option to pay Triangle Expressway tolls with the E-ZPass transponder, starting next Thursday – or to use a North Carolina transponder for electronic payments on E-ZPass toll roads from Virginia to Maine and Illinois.

The N.C. Turnpike Authority and the Delaware-based E-ZPass Group announced their so-called “interoperability” agreement Thursday. North Carolina officials expect in the coming year to work out similar deals with toll agencies that use other flavors of transponder technologies, in states from Georgia and Florida to Texas.

E-ZPass is the transponder most widely employed across the United States, with 23 million drivers using it to pay tolls in 14 states. Many of the commuters and retirees who drive on TriEx in Western Wake County are transplants from E-ZPass states.

Ralph Mannheimer of Cary uses his E-ZPass account with a Virginia turnpike agency to pay for toll-road trips through northeastern and Midwestern states. He opted not to buy an N.C. Quick Pass transponder when TriEx toll collections started in January, so the N.C. Turnpike Authority has been sending him bills in the mail.

“It really started annoying me when I got these toll bills for 80 cents and $1.70, so I was really anxious for them to start accepting the E-ZPass,” said Mannheimer, 77, a former New Yorker. “Now they’ll just debit the toll amount from my account in Virginia. I’ll use (TriEx) much more now than I did before.”

The 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway combines part of N.C. 147 south from Interstate 40 through Research Triangle Park with an extension of the 540 Outer Loop from RTP to Holly Springs. The third leg of TriEx, from U.S. 64 at Apex to N.C. 55 at Holly Springs, opened for traffic last week. Driving on this section of TriEx is toll-free until Wednesday morning, when toll collection begins.

E-ZPass transponders will be good for TriEx travel starting one day later, on Thursday.

Electronic tolls are debited from transponder accounts when the cars are detected by radio antennas above the roadway. Cars without transponders are billed for tolls at rates about 50 percent higher, based on images of their license plates.

The N.C. Turnpike Authority has sold more than 50,000 N.C. Quick Pass transponders in the past 14 months. Most of them are $5 windshield stickers, good only for toll-road travel in North Carolina. But 9,000 Triangle drivers have opted to buy $20 “hard-case” transponders that will be good, starting Thursday, in E-ZPass states as well.

“I have the hard-case transponder on both of my vehicles, and I want to use it up and down the East Coast,” said Craig Gartside of Apex, who takes TriEx to cut 15 minutes off the morning drive to work in RTP. “Hopefully I’ll be able to get rid of my E-ZPass.”

The Quick Pass–E-ZPass deal is expected to be the first of several agreements between turnpike agencies across the United States.

“For the people of North Carolina, it means convenience, smoother trips north – and, pretty soon, south,” said David Joyner, executive director of the N.C. Turnpike Authority.

“It’s what our customers want,” said PJ Wilkins, executive director of the E-ZPass Group.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/

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