Last hand-collected toll on Card Sound this summer

Travelers on Card Sound Road in North Key Largo will get a break on the $1 toll from August until the beginning of February. The bad news is, they’ll have to put up with some lane closures as the tollbooth is demolished and a new electronic toll is constructed.

The last hand-collected toll is scheduled to happen on July 31, said Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark. Construction of the electronic toll at the foot of the Card Sound Bridge will begin in August. It’s scheduled to be operational Feb. 8. No tolls will be taken in the interim, Clark said.

The design-build contract of $1.79 million was awarded to engineering consultants Keith & Schnars.

Tolls will be collected via drivers’ Sunpass transponders. The toll station will include camera readers, wiring and computer hardware. That construction contract, awarded to Tennessee-based Transcore, is budgeted at $834,800, “although about $166,000 is for contingencies that may not be needed,” Clark said.

The project is being paid for with money from the Card Sound Toll Fund, which contains money collected from the toll over the years.

“The construction phase of the project will start with the demolition of the old tollbooth and related buildings,” Clark said. “Florida Power & Light will relocate utilities and work will be done on the roadway. Some lane closures will take place, and those closures will be publicized when the schedule is known.”

Because vehicles must stop to pay the toll now, county officials do not want cars and trucks to speed through the area, by the popular Alabama Jack’s restaurant and bar, once there is no more toll. The project is being designed by the county and Halley Engineering Contractors Inc. with measures to prevent drivers from speeding.

“The speed limit through that section now is 45 mph, but we knew that the current toll booth forced cars to slow down and come to a stop,” said Judy Clarke, Monroe County’s director of engineering services and roads. “So during the conceptual design stage, we discussed what could be done and added a number of speed-reducing elements into the project.”

These features include keeping the lane width at the minimum 11 feet in lieu of 12 feet; adding a 7-foot-wide median at the toll site, pavement markings, plastic delineators and striping on the shoulders (called the narrow bridge treatment) to create a more narrow roadway effect that results in slower speeds; installing solar, flashing beacon speed signs that show how fast drivers are going; installing rumble strips that raise awareness for drivers; and reducing the speed limit approaching the toll from the current 45 mph to 35 mph; and installing appropriate signs.

It’s not clear if the toll will remain $1 per two-axle vehicle — plus 50 cents for each additional axle, Clark said. The Monroe County Commission is expected to take up the issue in the fall.

David Goodhue: 305-440-3204