AFFISHALSTATISTICKS:FHWA'S mishmash on toll roads

April 24, 2001
By Peter Samuel

AFFISHALSTATISTICKS:FHWA’S mishmash on toll roads

Originally published in issue 54 of Tollroads Newsletter, which came out in Mar 2001.

Page:30

Subjects:screw-up mishmash Toll Facilities in US TFiUS

Agencies:FHWA

Sources:Connie Bell Robert Roczycki

TFinUS lists the I-78 and I-80 toll bridges, NJ-PA, the tollbridges on the great interstates out west from New York City as properties of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA). The writ of the PA doesn’t run that far up the Delaware river! DRPA is strictly a saltwater Delaware River tollster, down south in Philadelphia, where it also operates the port. Those bridges way up in the northern whitewater part of the river on I-78 and I-80 are operated by a quite separate toll agency, the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Authority, based to their south in the Trenton area.

Then there are TFinUS confusions over electronic tolling. (ET) Under Electronic Toll Collection system there are various entries such as Transponder system, Tagbased, AVI (all different names for the same old thing) E-ZPass (mispelled in TFinUS), TIRIS radio frequency (a veeery old name, that one), Read-write (most transponders), Partial Electronic (we’re beat on what that might mean), Infrared laser (barcode scanner probably), Bar Code (same thing), Cash and Tokens (Wot’s electronic there?), Electronic ID card (magstripe card?), and a mix of manufacturers and toll system brand names. Talk about a mishmash.

We are given a listing – a very old list it must come from – for the Illinois Tollway of toll plazas which have ‘transponders’ installed. Guys: transponders go on windshields or some other part of the motor vehicle, and the toll plazas are equipped with readers, transceivers perhaps, the Brits quaintly call them beacons, but never transponders.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) tollsters are going to be most miffed by TFinUS. They are still smarting at Raytheon HTMS for using a picture of the George Washington Bridge as background to illustrate the results of bad old manual toll collection. Now the stalwards of PANYNJ must prepare to fire off a salvo at FHWA for their TFinUS entry. Under the Electronic Toll Collection System column and next to Geo Washington Bridge, Goethals bridge, and Holland tunnel the ‘No’ box is checked. No ET there? Last time we inquired over half the PANYNJ toll transactions were being conducted with E-ZPass, which has been in operation since 1997. Same with the Philadelphia bridges run by the Delaware River Port Authority which have had E-ZPass in operation for two years now. No acknowledgement in TFinUS either. And FHWA’s PUBLIC ROADS magazine, (Nov/Dec 1998) had the effrontery to claim it was FHWA itself that was “deploying” E-ZPass,” based on the fact that it had some years earlier provided some financial support to the project.

Even stranger, the toll facilities in Baltimore, 45mi from USDOT’s head offices are down in the TFinUS table as lacking any ETC system. Guys: M-TAG, she’s called. Speaking of not knowing your own backyard the Francis Scott Key bridge is classified in TFinUS under “non-interstate.” Actually the FSK bridge is very much interstate, I-695, carrying the Baltimore Beltway over the mouth of Baltimore harbor. And Maryland’s Kennedy Highway tollroad (I-95) with its huge mainline barrier plaza up in Cecil county – Gov Glendening’s biggest moneyspinner – is nowhere to be found in the fed’s list. Instead it is covered as a toll bridge because there happens to be the Susquehanna River bridge not far from the mainline toll plaza. Guess that’s arguable, but the tollster MDTA built the whole road and to this day maintains, and polices it and from time to time rebuilds and widens it all the way in to Baltimore, so it’s really a tollroad of which the bridge is a tiny part. (If that bridge makes the Kennedy tollroad a toll bridge, then almost every tollroad in the country is a toll bridge, because it has a bridge like that somewhere along its length.)

Orlando’s OOCEA may be amazed to learn from TFinUS that according to the feds their agency shares with Florida DOT administration of OOCEA toll roads. Their own guys took over all functions years ago. The rivalry is legend – stories of FDOT personnel fearful to even drive on the OOCEA pikes for fear of what might fall out a toll plaza canopy just when they happen to go by... and lots of nonsense jokes masking frictions that mock the idea they could jointly operate a toll facility.

Florida DOT is credited by TFinUS with operating a “Central Florida Expressway” between US-1 at Cocoa and FL-520. I’d never heard of that. Central Florida toll officials at both OOCEA and the Turnpike assure me that they, too, have heard of no such tollroad. Doesn’t exist. From the description that must be the Bee Line Expressway they mean, except it is separately listed. A bit of double-counting there?

Southern California’s TCA toll agency has three major toll roads (CA-73 San Joaquin, CA-241 Foothill, CA-241/261/133 Eastern) operating – they collect 225k tolls/day. None of them are listed in TFinUS under California’s ‘Non-interstate tollroads,’ though 91X is there and also Seventeen Mile Drive, a beach resort pike near Carmel.

The Mass pike will find that its Ted Williams Tunnel to Boston Airport gets left out, only the two older tunnels, Sumner and Callahan being listed under MA. Hey feds, that’s the ‘T’ in CA/T, (Central Artery/Tunnel,) $14 billion and counting. Hardly out of the news! Now, heck, we know that the Big Dig is one big embarrassment, but actually the Williams tunnel part of it went rather well ($1.3b), and has been quietly collecting tolls since the end of 1995. Maybe they haven’t fessed up to you yet, but check it out. TIP: Ya getta offa the bird at Boston’s Logan airport, proceed to the cab line, jump in and murmur to the cabbie the codeword “Sow Barstin,” and within two minutes you’ll spy ‘em collecting the tolls on the entrance to that Williams tube. This is the one and only piece of good news for the US taxpayer about the Big Dig, but they haven’t told the Feds?

TFinUS has a promising list of names and addresses and contacts at toll authorities around the nation at the back , and there’s good useful stuff there, don’t get us wrong, except it has no entries, not a single one, for toll authorities in any of NY, NJ, PA, MA, MD or VA, in some of which states the locals will complain there are more toll booths than church pews.

Missing 8m persons

Of course, the US Bureau of the Census recently found there were 8m more Americans than it had previously reported. Imagine missing the populations of New Zealand, Singapore and Denmark combined. Or, worse, half the world’s darn Australians. That number of people were here in the US and the federal agency responsible for counting people missed them! So we should hardly blame the FHWA for missing the odd turnpike here and there. And imagining one shows creativity? They’re lovely and capable people. I don’t think they get out of the office much though, and I’m not sure they are allowed longdistance telephone calls.

The stuff we’ve beaten up on was worked up by Connie Bell, a likable lady I know from a number of telephone conversations. She has since retired. The next set will be produced by Robert Rozycki. He says they rely on the states to provide the data, but they will try to ensure the next lot are more accurate. (Robert Rozycki 202 366 5059, www.fhwa.dot.gov)


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