Boston Globe columnist goes 'ga ga' over New Hampshire's open road toll experience (MEDIA)

June 11, 2010

Brian McGrory a columnist at the Boston Globe drives the I-95 New Hampshire Turnpike regularly and after experiencing open road tolling at the Memorial Day weekend, he's just blown away by the achievement. His column titled "Pay NH your toll, your respects" leads off: "I'm sorry, New Hampshire.

"I'm sorry that anyone from my paper, my city, my entire state has ever uttered a negative word about your wise and noble people. I'm sorry that we criticize the nice campers that populate your front yards, the friendly nightcrawler salesmen who sit on the sides of your roads, the cheerful fireworks stores that greet visitors on your borders."

He says he feels this wave of contrition for past belittlings of New Hampshire after having swept through the New Hampshire Turnpike's Hampton toll plaza over Memorial Day weekend without touching his brakes.

"You read that right. No miles of stop-and-go traffic on a Saturday morning. No sense of dread when it was time to drive home. No wasted gas, shortened tempers, or increased air pollution.

Three little words

"All because of three little words that describe one extraordinary human accomplishment: Open-road tolling.

"When nobody was looking, New Hampshire reconfigured its Hampton toll plaza to become the first state in New England to implement this miracle of modern technology. Explaining open-road tolling is kind of like trying to comprehend the early iPod -- So the mini cassette goes where?

"With open-road tolling, there are no booths. There is no reason to stop. In fact, as you glide through the plaza, the sign above says 65 miles per hour."

McGrory doesn't pretend to understand it:

"How do they do it? Don't know. I was driving too fast to see. I was told later that some piece of wizardry pings your E-ZPass transponder as you fly through two wide-open lanes at highway speed. If you don't have a transponder, there are still six lanes with tollbooths nearby."

Cognizant Campbell nominated as New Englander of the Decade

Back in Boston he got George Campbell, transportation commissioner in New Hampshire, on the phone.  Campbell told him they were concerned about the "legendary backups" and were "very cognizant of services to our traveling public."

Despite this "cognizant" talk which would normally drive a Bostonian into mocking sneers columnist McGrory declares that Campbell is his choice for "New Englander of the decade."

Then he asks: "Why is the most technologically sophisticated state in the nation, meaning us, still bumbling along with daily traffic jams -- worsened by a 1980s toll-collecting psyche -- while our hillbilly neighbors have gone completely state-of-the-art?"

"Meantime, we live in a state rich with elite universities and creative technology companies, yet we're confounded."

Mass Sec Trans Mullen: "We have limitations"

McGrory got Massachusetts secretary of transportation Jeffrey Mullen on the phone to ask him:

"Mullan offered me a very detailed account of the hopes that Massachusetts has for open-road tolling and the obstacles that it faces, all of which undoubtedly made sense, none of which indicated we would have it anytime soon.

"Those obstacles include a lack of space around some prime plazas, such as the Massachusetts Turnpike at the Route 128 exchange, and a reticence toward the kind of toll increase that would be required. Some officials have said it would cost more than $100 million.

"It's not lack of effort on our part or lack of desire,'' Mullan told him.

"But we have limitations that are built in.''

Adds the columnist: "Limitations. That should be our official state word. It should be sewn into our state flag, become our state emblem. Everywhere Massachusetts turns, there are limitations."

McGrory says it's not the governor's fault, or Mullan's fault or even the fault of the ham-handed legislature:

"Rather, it's a collective psyche that accepts obstacles as the norm and change as something that happens somewhere else."

He concludes: "You want to see progress, take a very pleasant drive through New Hampshire. Just avoid our toll plazas on the ride up."

our report:

TOLLROADSnews 2010-06-11

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