New Hampshire begins open road tolling on I-95 with successful holiday test
By Peter Samuel
Tens of thousands of motorists traveling I-95 through New Hampshire this Memorial Day weekend experienced the joys of open road tolling. Bureau of Turnpikes administrator Chris Waszczuk told us in an interview today they are "delighted and proud" at how well the highway speed tolling worked, and how well it seems to have been received by motorists. He said toll system integrator Telvent had done an "excellent job" and the civil contractor also.
Backups Friday and Saturday afternoons northbound and Sunday and Monday southbound, normally a mile long at holiday weekends, maxed out at 200ft in just some of the cash lanes while over half the traffic flowed smoothly through the middle ORT lanes at 65mph with never any queueing.
The ORT conversion is due by contract to be complete June 15, but Waszczuk says that they decided to do a major test ahead of completion - both to provide free-flow benefits to motorists on one of the busiest long weekends, and to do intensive testing under heavy traffic.
The first person to drive through the open road toll lanes was state transportation commission George N Campbell in his state car. He had to be on duty at 4am Friday May 28. Engineers wanted to start the highway speed toll collection with minimal traffic.
Motorists seemed to catch on to the new arrangement without trouble. Signs told them 'DO NOT STOP' an d '65mph' through the central ORT lanes. Travel in the new lanes was thankfully uneventful.
The test went Friday through 4am Tuesday morning, 96 hours. About a third of a million vehicles were handled in that time, slightly more by transponder than cash, though exact numbers aren't yet compiled. No serious faults were shown up. Only minor adjustments will be needed for the planned full opening of the ORT lanes mid-month was the preliminary assessment of the testing.
Legacy of 16 lane cash/roll-through electronic toll plaza
Hampton was a conventional stop-to-pay toll plaza of 16 lanes, four of which were reversible. It operated as a mix of cash collection out of toll booths and roll-through lane-based electronic tolling (E-ZPass.) Capacity was about 4400 veh/hr with 8 lanes, and about 5,100 with 10 lanes one direction.
In 2008 Saturday northbound traffic reached 5200/hour and Sunday southbound 5600 - at which flows serious backups developed.
Traffic projections showed these numbers could grow to 6300 and 7100/hr by 2020.
HNTB completed an ORT concept in December 2008 and the project was approved April 2009.
Cash tolls presently range between 42% and 50% of the total at 350 to 400 veh/hr/lane, electronic tolling accounting for between 58% and 50%, at around 1,000/hr in roll-through.
By 2020 they estimate transponder tolls should be between 68% and 77% of the total.
The plan has been to take out six toll lanes (Lanes 6 through 11), each about 10ft, 3m wide and five booths and dividers each about 6ft, 1.8m wide, providing about 90ft, 27.5m. That provides four 12ft, 3.6m high speed travel lanes, four 10ft, 3m shoulders one each side of each directional roadway, plus a central barrier.
3+3 ORT lanes provided for in gantry
The ORT gantries however span one adjacent cash lane (Lanes 5 and 12) each direction as well as the initial 4 ORT lanes for a total span of around 122ft, 37m. That is so they can widen the ORT lanes to six in the future when warranted by the uptake of transponders and toll-by-plate. They have the gantry in place ready for equipment to handle up to 6,000 vehicles/hour each direction at highway speed.
The new toll plaza as opened has 2 ORT lanes each direction and six cash/roll-through lanes each side. An additional cash lane was added each side (Lanes 1A and 17) as part of the recent upgrade. Ramps were adjusted to the nearby interchange, and new drainage works and paving was needed.
Five cash/roll-through toll lanes each direction were left as they were and there was no new work on the staff tunnel and other staff facilities.
Project cost was around $17m of which about $2m was toll equipment and systems. Readers are from Mark IV and vehicle detection and classification is by Federal Signal Idris loops installed in new ORT pavement.
The 2-axle cash toll at Hampton is $2.00 although New Hampshire E-ZPass users get a 30%, 60c discount.
Image based tolling
Chris Waszczuk told us they are signing the ORT lanes for E-ZPass transponders but will not treat non-transponder-equipped vehicles there as violators. They will bill them a $1 administrative fee in addition to the $2 toll to make the image-based toll $3. The bill will encourage those motorists to get a transponder (toll $1.40) but it will not treat them as a violator with punitive charges unless they ignore the first image-based toll (IBT) account.
Waszczuk told us they hope to move quite quickly to do their second ORT conversion at the mainline toll plaza on I-93/SR3 Central Turnpike in Hookset. He says the Hookset conversion is not 100% decided but their present plan is to work to open Hookset with ORT Memorial Weekend 2012.
The Hampton procurement with Telvent provided for Hookset as an add-on job at similar pricing.
First ORT on I-95
New Hampshire's is the first open road toll conversion on I-95. Delaware have a similar ORT conversion under way and due for opening next year. And the Maine Turnpike is caught in a fight over ORT+cash versus all-electronic tolling (AET) in the York area. Other I-95 toilers in New York and Maryland are at the study stage, with the George Washington Bridge of the Port Authority New York New Jersey being the biggest challenge for free flow toll collection.
Tolls are being considered on I-95 in North and South Carolina and Virginia with Virginia having produced a plan. Those three would most likely be all-electronic, with provision for cash off-road - at rest stops, gas stations and the like.
AET on NH/I-93?
New Hampshire is proposing to toll the presently untolled segment of I-93 all the way down to the Massachusettts border to support improvements. This might be the first all-electronic tolling in the state.