New York's MTAB&T to do all-electronic toll pilot at Henry Hudson Bridge plaza

September 29, 2010
By Peter Samuel

New York's MTA Bridges and Tunnels (MTAB&T) are doing a "pilot project" with all-electronic toll (AET) collection at the Henry Hudson Bridge plaza on the far northern tip of Manhattan island.  A staff presentation to the MTA board says the benefits of all-electronic are: less stopping and reduced travel times for motorists, reduced operating costs for MTAB&T and reduced capital cost in the future.

The Henry Hudson Bridge has been chosen because:

- lacking nearby entries and exits it is naturally a free flowing facility

- there are potential savings from not proceeding with an otherwise necessary rebuild of the toll plaza

- there is a high out-of-state component to the traffic (NJ, CT, PA drivers) so interstate collection can be tested

- it serves a cars-only parkway so there are no vehicle classification complications

- it is a medium sized facility with 60k to 70k transactions/day

Gateless Jan 2011

They plan to start mid-January 2011 by removing the gates and installing cameras - initially to identify violators, later to do toll-by-plate of vehicles without a transponder.

Staff are seeking Board approval this week for implementing a toll violation fee. At present all the  toll lanes in the MTAB&T system - whether transponder or cash - are gated. The gate in the down position prevents violations.

They are proposing a $50 toll violation fee.

They say in materials going to the Board that the fee will encourage motorists to have a working E-ZPass transponder or to pay the license plate toll. It will also, they say "ameliorate the financial burdens" of toll evasion on the toller.

The fee is intended to be "revenue neutral," the income from violation fees being designed to offset the costs of collection and toll revenues foregone.

A year gateless, then AET

Around January 2012 cash collection will cease and the plaza will go all-electronic - E-ZPass transponders plus license plate tolls in the mail.  All traffic will flow through the toll point at highway speed.

Payment will be accepted on-line, by phone, by mail or through payment agencies.

Some minor improvements will be made to the toll plaza area as part of AET work. But no toll booths or other cash toll lane equipment will be permanently removed until after AET has been tested and assessed and a decision taken to make it permanent.

Total project cost is put at about $10m, split between Phase 1 Gateless $4.6m, and Phase 2 AET $5.4m.

Telvent, MTAB&T's toll system contractor is doing the system work for AET.

Others to follow if successful

A presentation says: "A successful pilot (at the Henry Hudson Bridge) will also permit B&T to use AET at other crossings to reduce costs for toll plaza replacements and rehabilitations in future capital programs."

The principal risk acknowledged is possible revenue losses.

However this will be "mitigated" by enhanced collaboration with DMVs (motor registries), use of enforcement law, and regional coordination of business rules with nearby states moving toward AET - notably New Jersey which is committed to early AET on the Atlantic City Expressway.

The bridge

Henry Hudson Bridge is a double deck roadway of plate girder atop a 256m, 840ft steel arch span over the tidal Harlem River at the very northern tip of Manhattan where it flows into the also tidal Hudson River. 

Classified New York state route 9A (NY9A) it is an integral part of the Henry Hudson Parkway which runs as a cars-only tight expressway along the Hudson River waterfront from 57th Street in midtown Manhattan all the way up through Washington Heights to Inwood Hill Park. On the northern side it has connections to the Saw Mill River Parkway and the Cross County Parkway in Westchester County.

Part of Robert Moses great parkway system it is only open to passenger vehicles - no trucks. Opened in Dec 1936 it provides a magnificent entry to Manhattan from the north.

An oddity is that the upper deck is narrower than the lower deck that is presently set up to carry 4 lanes southbound. The upper deck carries three lanes northbound.

The original lower deck has been rebuilt in recent years and it is planned to convert it to 3 wider lanes plus shoulder when the deck rebuild is completed - matching the three lanes of the upper deck.

The bridge is named after the great British explorer Henry Hudson who explored and mapped much of north American coast in the early 1600s. His voyages were sponsored by London merchants hoping to find a northwest passage to Japan and China.  His ship the Half Moon anchored near the site of the bridge in 1609.  After a mutiny in 1611 Hudson died in what is now Hudson Bay Canada  at about age 51.

Your editor lived in Tarrytown NY and worked at Madison Avenue and 49th St 1980-82 and used the Henry Hudson bridge quite often.

Almost underneath the bridge on the Bronx side is a commuter rail station named Spuyten Duyvil, a colorful Dutch name "Spite of the Devil" for the fierce tidal currents of the rivers nearby.

The bridge was originally built by the Henry Hudson Parkway Authority that also financed and built with toll revenue bonds the splendid parkway of which it is the centerpiece.  It was transferred to the Triborough Bridge Authority, which transmuted into the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.

Toll only $3

The current toll is a modest $3.00 cash and $2.09 by E-ZPass transponder account. No vehicles over 3.18t, 7000pd gross weight are allowed. Future AET tolls have not yet been determined.

The toll plaza on the immediate Manhattan side of the bridge is an awkward double deck affair because of the double-deck of the bridge. It seems to have seven toll lanes each direction for a total of 14 toll lanes (NEED TO CHECK) but some of the cash lanes are no longer staffed on account of the high E-ZPass transponder usage - over 80%.

MTAB&T

America's top toller by revenue - annual tolls are running at around $1.4 billion - MTAB&T has a total of seven toll bridges and two toll tunnels (see top map for all nine) providing crucial road connections between the five boroughs of New York City:

- Robert F Kennedy Bridge, previously the Triborough Bridge, an unusual T-plan arrangement of three major bridges and an interchange on an island in the middle connecting Bronx, Queens and upper Manhattan

- Bronx Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges both major suspension spans across Long Island Sound linking Queens/Long Island to Bronx, Westchester County and Connecticut

- Queens Midtown Tunnel and Brooklyn Battery Tunnel linking mid and lower Manhattan under the tidal East River to Queens and Brooklyn at the western end of Long Island

- Verrazano Narrows Bridge a grand suspension span over the mouth of New York harbor linking Brooklyn and Long Island to Staten Island, part of a key route to the mainland in New Jersey

- Marine Parkway and Cross Bay Bridges over Jamaica Bay providing access for the Rockaways beach communities on the narrow peninsula along the oceanfront

Operating expenses of MTAB&T including depreciation are $529m, for earnings on the $1,346m tolls of $816m  before interest in 2009. The earnings are used to subsidize the lossmaking rail transit operations of the MTA - the subways and commuter trains.

Traffic on the nine MTAB&T crossings peaked in 2007 at 304m or an average daily 834k. It has declined since with the economy and employment to 291m in 2009, 798k/day.

Henry Hudson Bridge traffic was pretty constant 2002 to 2007 at 24m to 25m/year (average daily 66k to 68k) but has since also declined and is now 7% lower at 22.6m (62k/day). The bridge is expected to gross $54m tolls in 2010.

TOLLROADSnews 2010-09-28

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