For Whom the Toll Tolls

I lived in the south for about twenty years, mostly in Georgia, but also in North Carolina and Arkansas. I also briefly lived part-time in a few other southern states.

Initially, I missed some of the things I was used to in the north, but as I gradually became somewhat “southernized,” and the south became somewhat “northernized,” we eventually reached a fairly comfortable level of agreement with each other.

One of the rarities in the south that I didn’t miss all that much from the north was toll roads. Yes, they’re scarce, (but not non-existent) in the south, and that was nice. I remember paying one toll during two decades there, when we took vacation on Jekyll Island. The Atlanta area put in a new toll road, but it has not been well received.

But Maryland brought me back to northern reality rather quickly, with its then $4.00 (now $5.00) toll on I-95. A few miles further up the road and Delaware socks drivers with a $2.00 toll. On the return, the Delaware Memorial Bridge hits people up for $3.00, and another $2.00 is snatched away shortly after Christiana.

I initially lived in Maryland when I moved back north, and I had to ensure that I carried an extra $12.00 in cash (I carry little cash these days), just to visit my relatives in New Jersey. That quickly drove me to join EZ-Pass, and the convenience is certainly worth it, although quite a few drivers seem to think that it’s still necessary to stop (and probably roll down the window, too) before going through. It’s also frustrating during the summer months to find traffic backed up for miles on I-95, with no way of getting to the EZ-Pass lanes. One time I took the “LAST EXIT BEFORE TOLL” near Havre de Grace, started across the bridge and saw signs stating to “Pay Toll Ahead” in the amount of $5.00! So you take the “Last Exit Before Toll” and still have to pay the same toll! I learned from the locals that you can go to the “Pass” lane and pay $5.00 for a sticker that’s good for one year. Huh?

I never bothered to figure out how much I’ve paid in tolls through the years, what with the Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Turnpike, Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, Delaware Memorial, and other bridges, as well as the various bridges on Ocean Drive, but it must be substantial. I went to Cape May County Vo-Tech for two years, back when it was actually in Cape May, and remember mostly driving out through Rio Grande and taking Route 9, to avoid the then 25-cent toll on the Ocean Drive bridge. Now the bridge is a dollar going toward Cape May, but is free on the return trip to Wildwood Crest. I also commuted for six years to Drexel, in Philadelphia, and paid the Walt Whitman Bridge tolls, although I carpooled for three of those years.

Once upon a time, rumor had it that the Parkway exit tolls would only be in place until the exit was paid for. Some were actually removed after a time, such as the Tilton Road exit in Cardiff. But the toll booths at the Rio Grande exit for traveling to and from Cape May have been hanging around for nearly 40 years.

We traveled up to Maine last year, and every state except New Hampshire (I think they may have since converted) had EZ-Pass.

So my question is this: why are tolls so necessary in the northeast? I thought the state excise taxes on gasoline and tires were supposed to take care of all of that? Sort of like the Lotto, and sales tax, and income tax (none of which existed in NJ before 1965, when they introduced the then 3% sales tax) and the AC casinos were going to take care of everyone’s woes in New Jersey.

But let’s not get into that. Suffice it to say that my property taxes in Woodstown are almost twice what my entire mortgage (including property taxes) was in Georgia. Hey, that makes me sound stupid, doesn’t it?

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