CHULA VISTA (CNS) - Motorists got a few hours of free travel on San Diego's only toll road Saturday, then began paying much lower tolls following public takeover of the lightly-used, privately-owned project, a San Diego Association of Governments officials said.
"Today marks the start of a new era for the South Bay Expressway and this fast-growing part of our region," said Jerome Stocks, SANDAG chairman and mayor of Encinitas.
The tollway extends from the Otay Mesa border crossing north to Route 54 at Jamacha. It parallels Interstate 805 and has not attracted huge amounts of traffic from that busy freeway.
SANDAG acquired the lease to operate the South Bay Expressway from a private company in December and the revamped toll structure was approved by the Board of Directors in May.
"By lowering tolls, we are optimistic that we will give this area an economic boost and improve resident's quality of life by providing a fast, convenient and affordable alternative to the I-805 and local arterial roads," Stocks said.
The new toll rates for those with a FasTrak electronic tolling account ranged from 50 cents to $2.75 per trip, compared to previous tolls ranging from 85 cents to $3.85.
Those using cash or credit cards at toll booths will now be charged between $2 and $3.50. Previous tolls were $2.50 to $4.
"We are following through with our promise to taxpayers to lower tolls on the South Bay Expressway," Stocks said. "We are optimistic that lower tolls will draw traffic away from nearby congested arterial streets and Interstate 805, improving overall mobility in South Bay."
To mark the start of the lower tolls, travel was free on the four- lane tollway from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., SANDAG officials said.
SANDAG was the first in the nation to voluntarily institute across-the- board price cuts on an existing toll road, officials with the organization said.
"At a time when prices on everything are going up, we are doing something that is virtually unheard of in this country," Stocks said.
A family-friendly carnival was at the Otay Ranch Town Center to celebrate the lowered tolls. The event featured live music, a classic car show and a 50-foot truck filled with video game consoles, SANDAG officials said.
Variable tolls have been collected on the southern end of Route 125 since it was built. Sixty cent tolls used to be collected on the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge, but that ended in 2002.