Wednesday, October 6, 2010

No More Toll Plazas on PA Turnpike?

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has requested proposals for a year-long study of conversion to an all-electronic system--eliminating the 70 existing toll plazas and 600 toll collectors.

Turnpike Commission CEO Joe Brimmeier says electronic tolling is the wave of the future. For vehicles without EZ Pass, cameras would take a picture of the license plate, and the registered owner would receive a bill.

Brimmeier says when the turnpike opened, 3 million cars a year used the turnpike, but now the figure is 190 million. Most toll plazas are landlocked and can't expand to get vehicles through the interchanges faster, which raises issues of safety, emissions and fuel use.

While Brimmeier expects electronic tolling to be cheaper in the long run, he says it will be expensive to implement, and there will still be labor costs for maintaining the equipment.

Brimmeier says the tolling of I-80 would have been all electronic if the federal government had allowed it. It's much more involved to convert a road with toll plazas than to install an electronic system in the first place.

There are already five locations where cars with EZ Pass go through at highway speed. Three exchanges in central PA may go cashless by the end of the year: cars without EZ PASS will insert their turnpike ticket and then a credit card, as in some parking garages.

If the study shows electronic tolling to be feasible, it would propose a timetable for implementation. Brimmeier says many of the toll collector jobs could be eliminated through attrition, but there might also have to be layoffs.

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