Electronic Toll Billing, And A Busy Road. Nope, It’s Not 422

An HTNB-designed toll gantry on the Miami Dade Expressway in Florida.

HARRISBURG PA – Think back to mid-2011, when a great debate raged locally over proposals to institute tolling on U.S. Route 422. That plan, never enacted, was meant to raise revenue for highway expansion and repair, and to improve mass transit. Proponents at the time said slow-you-down toll booths would be unnecessary; overhead electronic gantries, they claimed, would track each vehicle and bill owners monthly for toll miles traveled.

Fast-forward to last Tuesday (Nov. 13, 2012) for a feeling of deja vu, only this time it’s not a gantry-equipped 422 that’s under discussion. Instead, electronic toll billing is being planned for the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Turnpike Commission officials, in a hearing before a joint House and Senate Transportation Committee, told legislators they plan to convert the highway to all-electronic tolling within five years, The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News reported. Craig Shuey, the turnpike’s acting chief executive officer, described the project as the most ambitious of its kind in the nation.

The commission intends to replace its existing network of toll plazas with the gantries, which would straddle travel lanes. “Tolls would automatically be deducted from E-Z Pass accounts, and the license plates of other vehicles would be photographed so bills could be sent to their owners,” The Patriot-News said.

Shuey told politicians that electronic tolling represented the most significant change in turnpike operations since it opened in 1940. A big reason: the commission could rid itself of up to $77 million in annual expenses paid primarily to 755 unionized toll collectors and 100 other non-union employees. They would all be out of jobs. The commission thinks it can save millions more in energy and maintenance costs, according to the newspaper.

The commission has already hired a contractor, HNTB Corp. of Missouri, to proceed with the plan that would eliminate cash collection along all 545 turnpike miles. The Patriot-News said HNTB has five offices, including one in Harrisburg.

Plans for tolling 422, and its accompanying electronic collection, died Oct. 4, 2011, when the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission shelved them to due negative “public and political sentiment,” as commission Executive Director Barry Seymour put it.

Interestingly, 422 tolling persisted as a minor campaign issue during the just-ended November (2012) general election. In the contest for the state’s 157th House District, between Republican incumbent winner Rep. Warren Kampf and former representative Democrat Paul Drucker, Kampf bought signage on 422 that positioned Drucker as pro-toll.

Related (to U.S. Route 422 Corridor planning):

Photo from HNTB Corp.

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