Report for Maine Turnpike lays out scope-of-work before ORT/AET decision for new southern toll point
By Peter Samuel
2012-07-10: A "Summary of AET/ORT Issues" for the Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA) says a number of studies are needed before a decision can be made on open road tolling plus cash (ORT+cash), or all-electronic tolling (AET.) In June 2010 US Government regulators (USACE) rejected an earlier MTA plan to build a new $34m ORT+cash toll plaza north of York saying the toll authority had not adequately answered the case made by the town of York and its consultant Daryl Fleming that AET was the better solution.
AET has a vastly smaller 'footprint' and requires less land taking, less fill and ends the emissions and energy consumption of stopping to pay tolls. It is also safer reducing rear-ender and merge collisions.
The York toll plaza at the southern end of the Turnpike collects over 40% of the system's revenue. A conventional upgrade of the existing toll plaza to ORT+cash - as done in New Hampshire to the immediate south or on I-95 in Delaware - has been deemed infeasible due to nearby interchange ramps and its location on a curve that makes for bad sight lines. Thus the controversial proposal in 2008 for a new mainline ORT+cash toll plaza some miles north of York on a straight stretch and well away from an interchange.
Maine more risky for AET
The new report from CDM Smith says the Maine Turnpike has characteristics which make cashless tolling more risky than at other places where such a conversion has been done successfully - 40% present transactions cash, and large percentages of transactions out-of-state/Canadian, infrequent users and commercial vehicles. Stronger Maine legislation on license plate tolling and cooperation of other jurisdictions would be crucial to limiting revenue losses.
"ORT and AET introduce additional costs and risks to revenue collection because tolls are not exclusively collected in the lane. Thoughtful consideration of policies to support conversion is essential to protect the revenue stream, maintain customer confidence and respect employees. A strong legislative foundation for enforcement of toll payments is also necessary to limit revenue loss."
The report notes that of about 50 toll operations in the US the six that have converted to date all are commuter pikes - located in urban areas, less than 50 miles long, 90% of traffic in-state users, commercial vehicles less than 3%, have strong legislative support for enforcement, and are non-union.
Extensive surveys and focus groups were used to discover the sensitivities and preferences of cash users. This guided signing, toll and fee structures, marketing, and payment options.
Premiums on tolls collected by license plate imaging are designed to cover the higher costs and greater losses of this alternate to transponder tolling, the report notes.
Fly-thrus less likely with people around
The report asserts that ORT+cash is less risky to revenues than AET: "Most people will pay if given the opportunity and there is a psychological effect (deterring fly-throughs) when human witnesses are nearby."
CDM Smith say "a significant percentage" of the population has no bank account and makes payments in cash. AET and ORT operations both benefit from accommodating the cash people with various options to pay their toll bills.
For others: "Accepting video toll payments and reconciling violation notices through the internet is convenient for the patron, more efficiency for the (toll) agency and requires a robust, user friendly and informative website... Rigorous testing and focus group input helped the agencies who converted..."
License plate cameras may need legislative OK
The report says that Maine Turnpike may need specific legislative authority for license plate reads for ORT or AET.
Much more detailed understanding is needed of out-of-state traffic, and relationships established with neighboring motor registries:
"Due to the high level of non-Maine residents using the York Plaza solving the ownership identification challenges will be critical to maintaining revenue collections under an AET scenario. Although the ORT scenario should not pose as large a risk the express lanes provide powerful temptation to an intentional violator. Effective and consistent enforcement methods will be critical under either scenario."
Canadians are seen as a special problem because no access is allowed to motor registry records cross border, the report says.
Bond indenture documents need to be examined, the report says to make sure ORT or AET are acceptable to the Turnpike's creditors.
The previous executive director Paul Violette with HNTB as his prime consultant was totally committed to the ORT+cash scenario for replacing the York toll plaza. But in part because of opposition from York he lost his job. His successor Peter Mills with CDM Smith as his prime consultant is cautious and open-minded on the best scenario.
Mills' prime focus presently though is getting acceptance of toll increases needed to strengthen the Turnpike's finances.
BACKGROUND: The largest conversion to AET so far in the US is North Texas Tollway's Dallas North Tollway and President George Bush Turnpike in the Dallas area. Other conversions include E470 in Denver CO, Selmon Expressway in Tampa FL, TX183A in Austin TX, the southern urban stretch (called HEFT) of Florida's Turnpike in the western part of the Miami area, parts of the Miami Dade Expressway system.
About 15 AET facilities have been built from scratch without cash toll collection: close to ten toll lanes (aka HOT or express lanes) projects, Westpark Tollway in Houston, Sam Rayburn Tollway in Dallas TX, Triangle Expressway in Raleigh NC, Inter County Connector in Montgomery County MD.
A bunch of others are moving to convert to AET or bring online new AET: Atlantic City Expressway, New Jersey Turnpike's Garden State Parkway, Port Authority NYNJ and MTAB&T crossings in New York City, Golden Gate Bridge, Scudder Falls Bridge near Trenton NJ, Jordan Bridge, Downtown/Midtown Tunnels Norfolk VA, Ohio River bridges in Louisville KY, Wekiva Parkway Orlando FL, Chisholm Parkway Dallas area, several in North Carolina, I-95 in Virginia, Illiana Expressway IL-IN, Sakonnet Bridge Rhode Island, Puerto Rico's half dozen tollroads, the Foothill Eastern and San Joaquin Hills toll roads in Orange County CA in the southern part of the Los Angeles area.
The 520 Floating Bridge Seattle WA began AET at the end of 2011.
More than ten new toll lanes projects - notably in Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston - that are in the works are all AET.
Open road tolling involving highway speed electronic lanes down the center and traditional cash lanes (coin machines or toll booth staff) alongside were most aggressively implemented on the Illinois Tollways in Chicago, and also adopted in Dallas by NTTA (but later taken to AET), in Orange County CA on the San Joaquin Hills and Foothill/Eastern Toll Roads, on the E-470 in Denver CO (later taken to AET), on the four Austin area TX tollroads, Georgia 400, South Bay Expressway in the San Diego area, on the ends of New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes, on the Delaware and New Hampshire Turnpikes both I-95, on DE1 to Dover DE, Tacoma Narrows Bridge Seattle area, and others we've probably forgotten but will gladly add in with help from readers.
copy of CDM Smith "Summary of AET/ORT Issues" won't attach unfortunately
report on town of York's success in getting USACE to block ORT+cash in June 2010: