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The sun might go down on one of South Florida's last toll booths run by a person as the Keys consider SunPass

John Struckman collects a $1 toll.
John Struckman collects a $1 toll.

The scenic Card Sound Bridge on North Key Largo likely will undergo $3 million in repairs this year -- and could see the start of a technological change.

A Monroe County-funded study on steps and costs needed to change from toll collectors to a SunPass toll-by-plate system is expected to finish this summer, county Director of Engineering Judy Clarke said Thursday.

A contracted engineering firm is in the middle of the study that will outline the design criteria and price of shifting from the staffed toll booth to a toll-by-plate system being increasingly used throughout South Florida.

In mid-December, staff with HDR Engineering Inc. passed out survey cards to drivers passing through the toll booth near Alabama Jack's restaurant.

They got about 900 mailed responses, "which is pretty good," Clarke said. The cards asked whether the drivers were visitors, on business or regular commuters.

"There also were questions like would they be willing to pay more for a better traveling experience," Clarke said.

The $1-per-car toll collected by the county not only funds much of the Card Sound Road and bridge regular maintenance, but smaller bridges as well.

"Card Sound Road and bridge are very important," Clarke said. "There are only two ingress and egress points to the Keys, so it's strategically significant in a hurricane evacuation or other emergency."

The study on automated tolling will outline the technology needed to link to the state's SunPass system, how much it would cost to convert and the long-term anticipated revenues.

Tolls collected by humans are becoming increasingly rare, particularly in South Florida. Two similar toll roads in Miami-Dade County -- the Rickenbacker and Venetian causeways -- converted to an automated system in mid-2014.

A final decision on whether to convert Card Sound to an automated system will be decided by Monroe County commissioners.

At their monthly meeting Wednesday at the Marathon Government Center, commissioners will consider a proposed $2.97 million contact for a number of repairs to the 2,777-foot-long Card Sound Bridge, built in 1969.

If it's approved as expected, the year-long work could begin by March, Clarke said.

"Most people won't even see it happening," Clarke said. "It's mostly under the bridge, some concrete work, metal repainting, pilings and at the [boat channel] fender system."

Work this year will focus on several areas identified during a maintenance and repair project in 2008.

The state Department of Transportation awarded a small-communities grant that funds about 75 percent of the pending Card Sound repairs. Monroe County will provide $742,400.

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