Massachusetts moves ahead on all-electronic, releases details of AET deployment

August 19, 2013
By Peter Samuel

2013-08-19: Seventeen mixed cash and E-ZPass toll plazas on the Mass Pike's ticket system are being replaced by ten mainline toll points, under the plan for going cashless with all-electronic tolling (AET.) The schedule provides for a Go-Live date for AET systemwide early 2017.

Details of the planning are laid out in a 53-page report submitted to the state's environmental permitting agency. The barrier system will also be simplified by ending some ramp plazas and putting all toll equipment on the mainline. Five separate plaza operations in the Allston/Weston area will be replaced by a gantry on the mainline.

A total of 24 mixed mode (ET+cash) toll points will be replaced by 18 all-electronic (ET+pay-by-plate) toll points.  The plan assumes tolling will be continued throughout beyond 2017 - the year sometimes mentioned as a date for ending tolls on the western ticket system based on the notion it is "paid for."

Tobin Bridge "pilot"

AET will be deployed first on the Tobin Bridge, a toll operation that is on a route of its own to the northeast of the city. In the nature of a "pilot" AET, the report says that will go cashless some time in 2014.

"This pilot will test new AETS (AET System) technologies and business concepts, and provide MassDOT time to gain experience before the systemwide conversion. Through this early implementation of AETS on a smaller scale, MassDOT is better preparing and positioning itself to meet the demands of a system-wide conversion, thereby reduce exposure to potential operational risks."

In the design phase a back office and customer service center will be procured, while concurrently design/build RFPs will be issued for toll gantries and system equipment.

Factory testing will be followed by construction of the toll zones along the mainline. The plan provides for the AET system to be tested in 'shadow mode' for several months alongside the current ET+cash system to test its performance before the switchover.

After the 'Go-Live' day for AET they will take down the old system and demolish the toll booths, canopies and associated structures.

Capital cost of the conversion to AET is estimated to cost about $120m.

400 toll collector jobs will end.  A number may be redeployed to customer cservice and image review for the Pay-by-Plate imaging of those motorists without transponders.

Current state

The AET permitting document summarizes the current situation on the Turnpike and tolled bridges and tunnels as difficult to improve further without going cashless. Eight barrier plazas on the metropolitan portion of the Turnpike and at the tunnels and Tobin bridge were a huge source of congestion before electronic tolling. Although dedicated E-ZPass lanes alleviated the worst of the congestion roadway curves and limited space cause traffic to continue to be delayed.

Presently 80% of tolls are collected by transponder at the Turnpike's metropolitan mainline plazas, while on the harbor tunnels and in the ticket system heading out west the percentage is only 70%.

The system west of MA128 has 17 ticket system toll points which, except at the ends, are side plazas.  The report says: "due to the nature of ticket system interchanges and plazas, it is not possible to improve plaza operations adequately via E-ZPass expansion. There often isn't enough space for more E-ZPass lanes, the curves are too tight for extra lanes to help, and cash-paying traffic is too slow to allow efficient operations."

Peak hours and holiday periods produce traffic volumes the existing plazas cannot handle without long backups:

"Since its introduction, E-ZPass (formerly known as "FAST LANE") non-stop lanes have been implemented where possible. The improvements have increased capacity, but have not helped enough to handle major surges of traffic at many major system interchanges such as Interchange 10 (I-290/I-395) and Interchange 11A (I-495), where traffic congestion and backups onto the mainline are common. These areas then become high-potential locations for accidents.

Higher crash record with mixed ET, cash

The report cites an ITE presentation on toll plaza accident potential: "As traffic flow diverges into the toll lanes then merges back into the roadway system, conflict points are created . . . As speed differentials within the traffic stream increase, it contributes to increased turbulence in the traffic flow and creates the potential for additional conflict points to occur along a motorist's chosen path."

The Mass Pike's Interchanges 14 and 15 in Weston and Allston have an especially bad crash record - some 60% higher than elsewhere: "The higher rate of crashes is due to a combination of higher traffic volumes in the toll plaza area combined with a shorter roadway length. Potential causes of the higher crash rates are the ramp weaving and merge areas at the approaches and departures to the toll plazas and speed differential between cash and E-ZPass vehicles.

The easy improvements in safety and smoothing traffic flow have been made over the past ten years and further improvements are very difficult so long as cash and electronic tolling are mixed, the report says.  Modernization of mixed mode tolling was examined - including five with open road tolling. This was found to be very expensive in capital and system costs, and probably not feasible because of the extra real estate needed, and the likely cost and community resistance. It was therefore rejected in favor of going the whole way to AET/cashless operations.

Goals of AET conversion

Goals of the AET conversion are set out as:

- improving traffic flow and reducing congestion caused by toll collection

- improving safety through simplifying interchanges

- reducing operations costs through eliminating cash collection

- avoiding the alternative of having to acquire right of way and gain permits for the expanded facilities needed  to improve mixed toll collection

The benefits of AET will be specially large at the Weston and Allston interchanges where traffic operations can be greatly simplified and safety improved, the report says.

The project says roadside equipment to support the gantries, and service road access can be provided to avoid environmentally sensitive areas. The end of cash toll plazas will allow impervious pavement and runoff to be reduced.

AECOM was the lead toll consultant on the feasibility study.

TTI is the lead toll consultant on the RFP with AECOM supporting. 

AECOM is the lead civil engineering consultant on the RFP with TTI supporting.

TOLLROADSnews 2013-08-19

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