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$1 Toll Suspended for Blues Weekend But Future of Summer Tolls Remains Uncertain

U.S. Navy on Flickr

Blue Angels Weekend visitors won’t have to worry about the $1 toll as entrance to Pensacola Beach will be free. Following public safety concerns because of backups on the bridge, Escambia County has worked to find quicker ways to move traffic. County Commissioner Robert Bender represents Santa Rosa Island and has been trouble shooting the problem.

Back in June, Bender proposed using only toll-by-plate technology to speed up wait times. Under this system, paying in cash was not an option. Visitors paid $3.50, which includes a $2.50 administrative fee for processing. Average travel time went from 50 minutes to 15 minutes after the electronic tolling option was used.

Not all the visitors thought this quick change up was fair. Warrington resident Karin Clements was one of many beach visitors who was waved through on June 15. She said the toll worker refused to accept her bill.

“I handed the dollar back to him a second time because I really couldn’t believe what he was saying. And I said ‘are you sure?’ and he said, ‘yeah, go ahead,’” Clements said.

Later that day she found out on social media that she would be charged via toll-by-plate, a fee she didn’t mind paying if only she had known beforehand.

This backlash resulted in Bender using $65,000 in discretionary funds to cover the costs of the tolls for the Fourth of July weekend. Bender said he used the funds so people would have a good experience at the beach.

“It’s about getting to the beach quicker and trying to have a more enjoyable experience being able to come off the island and being able to get back on if you need to,” Bender said. “It’s all about the traffic congestion problem out there.”

While the toll-by-plate system was going to be used for Blue Angels weekend, Visit Pensacola stepped in and agreed to pay for the costs. Visit Pensacola Steve Hayes said having fun and not worrying about the extra fee is important for promoting the island.

“If I’m a resident here and I have a good experience going out there and I’m now talking to my friends, family, relatives about Pensacola but also my experience is a positive experience does that also help spread the word about us as a travel destination.”

Should similar backups and congestion happen again this summer on the weekends, Bender says the toll-by-plate option may be used. Other solutions to alleviate traffic in the future could look like an app or a week-long pass. Bender says it’s a move toward an electronic system he believes will be more efficient and promote safety. To find out when tolls change for Pensacola Beach, you can visit myescambia.com and navigate to the “a better way to the beach” webpage for updates.