Florida's Turnpike: What You Need to Know

By: Julie Landry Laviolette

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Driving through the Sunshine State? Odds are, if you’re heading up or down or even across the central spine of the state, you’ll find yourself on Florida’s Turnpike.

Here’s what you need to know about the Florida’s Turnpike:

What is Florida’s Turnpike?

It is 461 miles of toll roads that make traveling more efficient because of fewer exits and less traffic. It is operated by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, part of the Florida Department of Transportation. See a map here.

Why do I have to pay a toll?

The Turnpike is largely paid for by the drivers who use it. Toll revenue goes to operate, maintain and expand the Turnpike system.

When was the Turnpike built?

Construction started in 1957.

Why is it called the Ronald Reagan Turnpike?

The main line, from Miami to Wildwood, north of Orlando, was designated the Ronald Reagan Turnpike in 1998 by the Florida Legislature to honor the 40th president of the United States.

How much are tolls?

They depend on the section of the Turnpike you’re on, but are priced by mile and by vehicle axle. See a toll calculator here.

How do I pay tolls? Do I need to have cash?

You can pay by cash or by SunPass, the state’s prepaid toll program, which discounts tolls about 25 percent and saves time at toll booths. In Miami, you can also pay by Toll-By-Plate, where a camera takes a picture of your license plate, and you are mailed a bill for tolls plus a $2.50 service charge.

How do toll booths work?

Turnpike signs will let you know what kind of toll booth is coming up, and the toll amount. At cash booths, you pay the toll and can get change. At unmanned cash booths, you will need exact change in coin. If you have a SunPass, it is scanned by an electronic reader and tolls are deducted from your prepaid account.

The Miami section of the Turnpike no longer accepts cash. It uses SunPass or Toll-By-Plate, which takes a picture of your license plate and mails you a bill for tolls and a $2.50 administrative fee.

What is SunPass?

SunPass is the state’s prepaid toll program. To use it, you buy a SunPass device called a “transponder” that attaches to the inside of your windshield. When you drive through a SunPass toll plaza, the toll is deducted from your prepaid account.

What is a SunPass transponder and how much is it?

There are two kinds of SunPass transponders. The SunPass Portable is $25 plus tax and attaches to your windshield with suction cups. It is removable and can be used on any vehicle with a glass windshield, including motorcycles. The SunPass Mini Sticker is $4.99 plus tax, and permanently attaches to your vehicle’s windshield -- but cannot be used on motorcycles. Both require a $10 minimum balance to activate.

How does SunPass work?

When you drive through a SunPass toll lane, the SunPass transponder transmits a radio signal to sensors in the toll plaza and the toll amount is deducted from your prepaid account. Find more info here.

Where can I buy a SunPass?

Online, by mail or fax, or at nearly 2,000 retail outlets in Florida, including Publix Super Markets, CVS Pharmacies, Amscot Financial branches and AAA South offices. Transponders are also sold at Turnpike service plazas, Turnpike gas stations and SunPass Service Centers. The SunPass Mini Sticker is sold at 24-hour vending machines at three Welcome Centers and one rest area. See locations here.  

How do I activate a SunPass?

To activate your SunPass, you need to put a minimum of $10 in your prepaid account. You can activate online, at 1-888-TOLL-FLA (1-888-865-5352), at a SunPass Payment Center or a SunPass Service Center. You can use your activated SunPass immediately in "SunPass Only," "E-Pass Only" and "Leeway Only" lanes. You can use your SunPass after 6 a.m. the morning after activation in other lanes.

Should visitors get a SunPass?

You are not obligated to buy a SunPass, but it will save you money and time. You will save about 25 percent on tolls, and you won’t have to stop at cash lanes.

Where does the SunPass work?

SunPass can be used on all Florida toll roads and nearly all bridges. If you sign up for Easy Pay and link a credit or debit card to your SunPass, you can use it to pay parking fees at the Tampa, Miami, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Orlando and Palm Beach airports.

What if I go through a SunPass lane by mistake?

A picture of your license plate will be taken, and you will receive a notice about the unpaid toll. Read more here.

What is Toll-By-Plate? How does it work?

Toll-By-Plate, currently available only in Miami, is a tolling system that works by taking a picture of a vehicle’s license plate as it passes under a tolling station. The vehicle’s owner is invoiced for tolls every 30 days, plus a $2.50 administrative charge. To open a prepaid Toll-By-Plate account, visit www.tollbyplate.com or call 1-888-TAG-TOLL (888-824-8655). Or just drive and you will receive an invoice in the mail.

Are other Turnpike toll booths converting to all-electronic/no cash?

Yes, and here’s the timeline of conversions:

-     February 2011 - 37 toll plazas in Miami-Dade County

-     January 2014 - Golden Glades toll plaza in Miami-Dade converted, and the I-4 Connector in Tampa opens as an all-electronic facility

-     Spring 2014 - Sawgrass Expressway, Fort Lauderdale area; and Veterans Expressway, Tampa Bay area, scheduled to convert

-     Late 2015 - Hollywood Boulevard (Exit 49) and Griffin Road (Exit 53) in Broward County scheduled to convert

For updates, check the current projects web page.

How do I pay tolls if I rent a car?

Most major rental car companies can include tolls in your rental agreement. Some rental cars have a SunPass. If your car does not, Turnpike cameras take a photo of the rental car's license plate as it goes through a toll lane and bills the rental company. Your credit card is charged or you are billed for tolls, plus any service fees. Ask your rental car company for fees and terms.

What if I have a SunPass and rent a car?

You can use your own portable SunPass transponder in a rental car. Just let SunPass know the rental car’s license number.

More By Julie Landry Laviolette

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