The new interchange on the Atlantic City Expressway at Route 50 in Hamilton Township is expected to open at noon Friday, but drivers who plan to use it will have to pay a $3 toll with E-ZPass only.

A short ceremony will be held 11 a.m. Friday before Exit 17 opens to traffic.

The exit will provide an easier traffic flow for drivers on Route 50 who want to take the expressway toward Atlantic City and those heading west on the expressway who want to exit onto Route 50. The existing configuration allows only eastbound traffic on the expressway to exit at Route 50, and drivers on Route 50 can enter the expressway only heading west toward Philadelphia.

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The $3 toll has been criticized by some lawmakers and South Jersey Transportation Authority commissioners. SJTA approved the toll amount in April. Some drivers also say the $3 fee is too much, when other expressway ramps are typically 75 cents.

The SJTA held three hearings in March about the interchange and the $3 toll, and got very little feedback from the public.

SJTA officials say the fee is necessary to match the nearby Egg Harbor Toll Plaza, which is $3. If the Exit 17 toll were less than that amount, the authority said it would lose potential revenue since drivers could use the interchange to bypass the Egg Harbor plaza.

The tolls have been positioned so that drivers who are immediately coming from or going toward the Egg Harbor plaza cannot be charged a $3 toll twice, the SJTA said.

Meanwhile, paying with cash or coins will be prohibited. SJTA spokeswoman Sharon Gordon said making the toll ramp E-ZPass only is one method for the authority to push all drivers to use the electronic toll-collection system.

She said close to 70 percent of toll users on the expressway use E-ZPass.

Those without it who pass through Interchange 17 for the first time can expect to get a letter about the toll, Gordon said. The authority will go after repeat violators, she added.

Drivers who use E-ZPass will be eligible for frequent-toll discounts: A $3 toll drops down to $1.92 for those who use the toll at least 30 times in a 35-day period, the SJTA said.

Hamilton Township Mayor Roger Silva said Wednesday night that he thinks the full interchange at Exit 17 is a good thing and could help relieve the traffic backup on Wrangleboro Road as well as improve access to Egg Harbor City.

"I hope it works. I hope people get used to using it," Silva said.

The Township Committee did send a resolution opposing the $3 toll charge at the interchange to the SJTA, but that body made its own decision, Silva said.

Staff writers Sarah Watson and Elaine Rose contributed to this report.

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