If you live on one of the Venetian Way islands, you’ve probably received the renewal application for your annual causeway pass. Each spring, property owners can pay $24 a year to renew their C-Pass transponder, and can cross the causeway toll booth all year for free.
You’ve probably heard that at some point this summer, the C-Pass devices will be replaced by SunPass. That will mean changes in how the causeway operates.
Your Belle Isle Blog spoke with Miami-Dade County Causeways Division Chief Mike Bauman about the timetable for the change, and what it will mean to Venetian Isle residents.
Q. When will the switch to SunPass take place? What will C-Pass holders be required to do?
Bauman: We are on track for the summer, though I cannot nail down a precise date. That is dictated by the Turnpike, which oversees SunPass. When we have a firm date, C-Pass holders will be given plenty of time to buy a SunPass device or have a device they already own programmed to enable them to pass through the toll plaza toll free.
For now, Venetian Island property owners should renew their C-user agreements as they have in past years.
Q. When the change takes place, will we be able to do it by mail or will we have to go the the tollbooth building on the causeway?
Bauman: We recognize it is a chore to come in and renew. We’d like to streamline that process. Back in 2005, after the toll plaza was rebuilt, we came out to the buildings on Belle Isle and held a meeting for island homeowners. We may try to do that again. People will have plenty of notice.
Q. We’ve heard that there will no longer be toll booth operators or toll arms at the toll booth on Biscayne Isle. Is that true?
Bauman: Yes. The toll plaza itself will remain in place. But there will no longer be any cash collected at any of the lanes. There will be one or two lanes open in each direction at all times. It will be free-flowing traffic. It is all electronic. No one needs to stop. Drivers will slow to a safe speed, but will not have to stop.
Q. Do you expect that traffic will still back up in the eastbound direction, as frequently happens at busy times?
Bauman: This change will eliminate those backups. There will be no need for cars to stop at the toll plaza.
Q. Some residents worry that the change will lead to more traffic and speeding on Venetian Way. Do you expect that?
Bauman: We don’t. The speed limit will still be 25 mph. We will be installing speed feedback signs on causeway, to warn people if they are exceeding the limit, and that is coming soon….The narrowness of the lanes at toll plaza causes people to slow down. So does the narrowness of the lanes on the islands.
Q. Why not leave all three tolls lanes open in each direction?
Bauman: There is no reason for more than two. Because cars won’t have to stop and pay, two lanes will be enough to accommodate the flow of traffic. Three lanes would lead to cars jockeying to get in front of each other when the road narrows.
Q. Is it possible to have variable toll rates on the causeway to discourage its use during busy times?
Bauman: Unfortunately, that won’t work on the Venetian. Imagine if the bridge goes up and there is no traffic doing through. That would cause a toll increase, but not because of the traffic volume. Variable tolling responds to congestion, so that wouldn’t work.
Other times, there might be additional traffic because there is an accident on the MacArthur Causeway and traffic is diverted. Then we’d be penalizing them for getting into a traffic jam.
Q. Could the toll be higher?
Bauman: Those decision are always ultimately made by county commissioners and may be recommended by staff.
Q. For many years, people who were not Venetian Causeway property owners were allowed to by C-Pass transponders for $90 a year. Is that still the case?
Bauman: As of April 1 of this year, you will need to be a Venetian Isles renter or an employee in a an island location to buy to those passes. Others will not be allowed to purchase the $90 pass. (this corrects an earlier version of this post, which said the $90 passes would be eliminated entirely).
Q. We’ve heard that the $24 annual fee for property owners may be eliminated, because the causeway was originally built by a private developer, and the legal agreement transferring it to the county required it be free to property owners. Is it possible the $24 annual administrative fee will be eliminated?
Bauman: That is under discussion at various levels of the county, with public works and the county attorney’s office.
Q. Any advice for Venetian homeowners?
Bauman: Just to advise people that everyone will be required to have a SunPass to have the annual plan. You need to have proof you own property on the causeway, and it helps if the car you are registering has the address of your property.