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NJ toll secrets: How to avoid fines on Turnpike and Parkway

If you’re a frequent traveler of New Jersey’s toll roads — specifically the Garden State Parkway — we have the answers to some questions that may have been bugging you for years.

Garden State Parkway entrance ramp toll
Garden State Parkway entrance ramp toll plaza (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

A spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which is responsible for maintaining both the Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, let us in on some little-known tidbits that may come in handy the next time you’re ready to freak out at a toll plaza because something’s gone wrong.

A couple of these answers will make you realize that, in many cases, you have little to worry about.

You paid, but …

You may have experienced this form of torture on the roads more than once: You put the correct amount of change in the toll basket, but the “paid” light doesn’t fire.

Chances are you won’t receive a violation notice in the mail. According to spokesman Tom Feeney, nine times out of 10, you’re dealing with a clogged machine, caused by one of the motorists ahead of you.

“The sign’s never going to change because the machine is clogged up,” Feeney said.

And once there’s a clog, or another issue identified with a specific toll, the violation process shuts down immediately, he said.

An alarm notifies a supervisor when a clog or issue is present, and the problem can sometimes be resolved by remote operation of a “trap door” that can erase a clog.

Other times, no paid signal means one of your coins “got hung up” in the machine, Feeney said. But “trailing coin logic” dictates your stray dime will eventually find its way to the right spot, thanks to the change from subsequent motorists.

Behind the scenes, there’s a record of every transaction in every lane. “Extra” coins from one transaction can be attributed to vehicles that seemingly shorted the toll.

“If you stop, put all your coins in the basket and then go, you’re not likely to get a violation,” Feeney said.

It’s a different story, though, when drivers fly through the lane and miss the basket with some of their payment.

Who ya honkin’ at?

If you’ve been beeping your horn when an issue pops up, thinking it’d make a difference, no one’s listening.

Years ago, signs directed drivers to honk in order to alert staff of an issue. But these days, supervisors are notified via computer, even if they’re dozens of miles away at a different plaza.

No exact change

Taking a Parkway ramp, you may have been blindsided by the absence of lanes accepting cash when all you have is dollar bills. These lanes are commonly closed beyond peak drive times and the summer months.

If you’re caught off-guard and lanes are accepting only exact change or E-ZPass, no worries. Go right on through. As long as you’re not a frequent toll violator, and this doesn’t become a habit, you won’t be fined, Feeney said.

“If you don’t learn your lesson after one or two times, then you will start getting violation notices,” he said.

High maintenance

According to Feeney, each toll is maintained on a weekly basis by an on-site technician. Beyond that, individual machines are pulled every month or so and “taken back to the shop” for a more thorough maintenance regimen.

If you drive through the same toll lane all year long on your way to work, you may be dealing with 12 different machines over that time period.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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