First move to all-electronic tolling (AET) at New York's Henry Hudson toll bridge - gates go (CORRECTED)

January 21, 2011

Big shots at New York's MTA did a ceremonial removal of a toll gate for the cameras today at the Henry Hudson bridge toll plaza on the northern tip of Manhattan. Seven overcoated gloved officials were led in the media performance by the giraffe-like Jay Walder chairman/CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority - a man of basketballer height at close to 7ft, 2m tall.  

Standing on an island they were supervised by Jim Ferrara of the MTA Bridges and Tunnels (B&T) division, also known as the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. B&T is New York MTA's profit center - pulling in some $1,425m in tolls this year, the largest US toller by revenue.

Ferrara's message, he says, for Henry Hudson E-ZPass patrons - around 80% of the total - is  simple: "Don't stop, keep moving!"

Without gates the Henry Hudson E-ZPass lanes are signed for 15mph travel - we call it roll-through transponder tolling.

A hallowed history

Toll gates go back to medieval times, and probably further in history.

The word turnpike comes from the gate, made like a 'pike' or spear which blocked the travelers' path until it was 'turned' or gotten out of the way once toll payment had been made to the collector in the small roadside tollhouse or tollbooth.

The gate is the surest way to prevent toll evasion, the most certain way to collect the toll because the presence of the down gate says: "you pay, or you stay." Or: "no payment, no passage."

With gates you have no need for cameras and follow-up of motorists who blow through - no 'violation enforcement' as it's termed.

Downside however of gates is that speeds are greatly reduced. It is stop-to-pay, or nearly stop.  Throughput of toll lanes is less. That can make toll collection a bottleneck - a source of backups and delay. Plus gates are regularly damaged by vehicle hits and need replacement, a cost in staff time and supplies.

So most tollers in the US began dumping their gates as an obstruction from the 1990s on. Except at smaller toll bridges.

Most transponder-only tolling in traditional toll plazas in America is now gateless and roll-through at posted speeds of 10mph or 15mph - with motorists generally given 5mph or 10mph leeway.

MTAB&T went another route in the mid-1990s when transponder tolling began. They upgraded their gates to minimize gate problems.  

If you're a seagull...

If you are a seagull it isn't wise to sit on an MTAB&T gate. They are light, very fast gates. They shoot up to open at high speed. That makes vehicle throughput closer to the speeds elsewhere in gateless dedicated transponder lanes.

And the MTAB&T gates are hooked up to sensors that make it difficult for a vehicle to hit them. They can be set to shoot up out of the way of a charging vehicle at the last moment.

This feature isn't widely known because the toller didn't want to encourage motorists to 'charge' the gates. But to do so would in any case be hazardous since they can be set, as by tradition, to stay down until a toll payment is registered. As a driver you don't know.

Gates remain in use in E-ZPass lanes at all MTAB&T facilities, but a few years ago they were removed from cash lanes.

The removal of the gates at the Henry Hudson Bridge toll plaza is the first stage of a MTAB&T pilot program to test first gateless, then cashless toll collection.

They've installed an elegantly light, functional, trussed gantry over the eight approach toll lanes (see picture nearby).

For the moment this only carries cameras to get images of the license plate and other identifying features (color etc) of vehicles if needed. It could later be used for mounting of readers but at this stage they remain under the old canopy. In-pavement electromagnetic loops do the vehicle detection and axle counting as before.

This gantry-borne equipment will support continued lane-by-lane tolling and separate cash and transponder (E-ZPass) toll collection. Toll system software was modified and given additional features but was not new as we incorrectly reported initially.

Next step to cashless through the old toll plaza, no open road tolling contemplated

If all goes to plan then some time next year they will end cash collection but route traffic through the existing toll lanes, all the existing concrete islands aqnd toll booths remaining.

Judie Glave, spokesman for MTAT&B responded to our initial report that they planned an open road section saying: "We have no intention of demolishing tollbooths, islands, etc., during the pilot. Our cashless pilot will be within the confines of the existing toll plaza."

Open road tolling not contemplated

Logically the next step would be open road tolling, demolishing the lane separation hardware - gores, concrete islands, and booths on the left side of the toll plaza - so that motorists had a normal stretch of highway through the toll point.

Telvent, ACS

Telvent did lane and plaza software integration for the project and ACS at the Customer Service Center supported the project with work modifying back office systems. Project cost was around $10m of which $6.3m could be applied to other crossings if they go gateless and cashless too.

BACKGROUND: The Henry Hudson Bridge is on a parkway reserved for light vehicles only so vehicle classification issues are minimized. It has very high repeat local commuter use and has a high proportion of E-ZPass subscribers. With relatively few cash users and few irregular users conversions here are, in theory anyway, more easily managed than at say the Verrazano Narrows bridge with all those Jersey drivers and other irregulars from far afield.

A first?

MTAB&T has incorrectly claimed this will be the first toll bridge in the US to go all-electronic.

Washington state DOT will beat the Henry Hudson Bridge to all-electronic tolling on a major urban commuter bridge. They say they'll have AET running on the 520 Floating bridge over Lake Washington this spring. It has average daily traffic of around 100k, also making it larger than the HHB (60k).

Indiana DOT just did a conversion to all-electronic (2010-12-27) on the small rural 2-lane toll bridge over the Wabash River IN-IL west of Evansville IN.

They can probably claim to be the first AET toll bridge in the US.

Washington state's Tacoma Narrows bridge has open road or highway speed transponder tolling leftside at the toll point, but cash rightside.

Nearby to MBAB&T, the Port Authority NYNJ is in process of procuring a new toll system specifically designed to allow a switchover to all-electronic at the six big NY-NJ crossings (four toll bridges, two tunnels), but nothing is firmly scheduled yet for conversion.

Louisville KY and south Indiana plan cashless all-electronic at their new toll bridges over the Ohio River.

On 520 bridge toll see:

On Wabash River toll bridge conversion to AET see

TOLLROADSnews 2011-01-20 CORRECTED 2011-01-22 9:40

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