Changes to toll road will give drivers 'non-stop' experience

Drivers exiting Route 73 will not be able to pay tolls with cash beginning in mid-May, authorities expect.

The change comes as part of a larger phase-out of cash payments along the 73, 133, 241 and 261 toll roads in Orange County, which began last summer. An exact date for the official conversion of these roads remains to be determined.

No more will drivers need to slow down or idle their cars while they wait to slip dollars into the toll machine. Instead, customers will be rerouted away from blockaded toll booths to lanes that will be equipped with new technology. The contract employees who worked at the toll booths will be reassigned.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies are rolling out new ExpressAccounts to serve in lieu of dollars and coins for those who do not wish to sign up with FasTrak.

The ExpressAccounts can be used only on Orange County toll roads. They can be prepaid or the tolls charged daily to a credit card or billed with a monthly invoice.

Such options came from focus groups, research and surveys in which users said they wanted "a non-stop experience," said Gwen Hennessey, a spokeswoman for Transportation Corridor Agencies.

Drivers will be billed according to license plate readings rather than with a FasTrak transponder, but — as cash customers did — they will incur tolls that are about 20% higher.

If someone forgets to set up an account or wishes to pay on a toll-by-toll basis, that driver can do so using a One-Time-Toll option. An online form must be filled out within 48 hours of passing through a toll station detailing the date of travel, personal and vehicle information, and a method of payment. This option also carries higher fees.

"The whole goal is to make it more efficient for individuals to use the highway," said Rush Hill, mayor of Newport Beach and chairman of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency.

Those who already have FasTrak accounts, which charge a $2 monthly maintenance fee unless $25 is accumulated in tolls, will not need to make any changes.

Route 73 charges tolls only south of the Bison Avenue exit in Newport Beach.

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