Aug. 7, 2015 — New toll lanes, featuring new software, improved convenience for bridge customers, and new frequent user discount toll rates, are set to open Monday night at the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge.
Contractors and International Bridge Administration (IBA) staff will begin opening the new toll lanes at 10 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10, and expect to have two southbound and two northbound lanes available by Tuesday morning, Aug. 11. Toll traffic should not be impacted as the new lanes come online.
IBA officials expect all three permanent northbound lanes and two permanent southbound lanes to be fully functional by Wednesday, Aug. 12. The remaining two permanent southbound lanes are slated to go online in late September after the demolition of the old IBA administration building. When complete, the toll plaza will have four southbound and three northbound lanes.
Existing “Prox” accounts will be moved into a new toll software system, where they will continue to work. Prox card readers will now be available on the exterior of the toll booths, in addition to automated gates and patron fare displays. Additional online features are coming soon.
“The new system will eventually include online Prox card customer accounts and many other convenience features,” said Peter Petainen, chief financial officer for the IBA. “Customers will be able to access their account information online, review their statements and account usage, request additional cards, and even set up account balance replenishment in their choice of currency using VISA cards.”
After the toll lanes and customer accounts are transferred to the new system, and account data has been verified, the new toll website (accessed from www.saultbridge.com) will go live. Online accounts are expected to be available Aug. 17. The new system features account auto replenishment, with preset amounts determined by the customer. All current accounts will have 24 months of account history automatically transferred to the new system.
The new toll system also ushers in a new frequent user discount rate structure, based on Prox card use over the previous 30 days:
- Zero to two crossings: 10 percent discount
- Three to eight crossings: 20 percent
- Nine or more crossings 30 percent
The enhanced rate structure also includes some policy changes: Prox accounts will no longer expire if inactive for the previous 122 days and all accounts will automatically receive a 10 percent discount.
The new frequent user discount rate structure was approved in 2013 by the IBA’s board after public hearings — part of a multiphase toll increase. The IBA estimates that more than 80 percent of card users will be unaffected and still qualify for the full 30 percent discount. Less than 1 percent of card users will experience a reduction to the 10 percent toll rate. The old toll software lacked the functionality to implement the new rate structure.
The toll software upgrades, necessary because the current software is obsolete and will no longer be supported, will cost $2.4 million over 10 years. The IBA upgrades are part of a $7 million project undertaken in coordination with the Mackinac Bridge Authority and the Michigan portion of the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron.
The IBA’s toll system upgrade is also being coordinated with the larger $8.9 million toll plaza reconstruction effort. The project is funded from toll revenue reserves the IBA has set aside in short-term investments over the past 10 years. The IBA funds all projects from reserves and does not carry any debt.