Richmond VA toller RMA opening 3 ORT lanes on Downtown Expressway
By Peter Samuel
2012-08-03: Open road tolling (ORT) is scheduled to begin not far from the center of the Virginia capital Richmond Monday midmorning August 6 - at the busy mainline plaza of the Downtown Expressway (VA195). Three open road toll lanes will operate westbound through the plaza with four cash lanes (two staffed, two coin machine) alongside.
The new ORT lanes will speed the trip home evenings for central Richmond workers who live to the west or south.
The open lanes are signed for 45mph.
The original plan was to have ORT lanes eastbound as well but eastward beyond the plaza (at 5th and 7th Streets) there is recurring congestion at off-ramps leading to the downtown area and in local streets, so they judged there was unlikely to be a benefit in improving toll plaza throughput.
So eastbound they have four cash lanes, also two staffed, two coin machines and four dedicated transponder lanes signed for 10mph. There will be considerable weaving movement on the 4 lanes east.
Too much cash still to go AET
RMA looked at all-electronic tolling but decided it is too soon for that because of the 40 percent of transactions they still do with cash.
Linda McElroy, spokesman: "RMA investigated AET as an option, but decided that it is not in our best interest at this time for our customers who still operate on a strictly cash basis. AET is an option for us at a later date, just not in the near future."
The project added three toll lanes and pavement (2 lanes westbound, 1 lane eastbound) to the old 12 lanes toll plaza which had four central reversible lanes.
(see overhead illustration nearby).
Work started June 2011.
HNTB were 'engineers of record' in the toll plazas upgrade.
Project cost was $15.5m - part of which was spent at other tolling points. The ORT portion of the project was about two-thirds of that at $10.3m.
Corman Construction did the civil works. Mike Berry general manager, Theresa Simmons RMA engineer and David Caudill operations were all much involved in the project, RMA's largest in the past year.
The toll system work was by TRMI with a $6.3m contract within the overall $15.5m.
TRMI designed the overall toll system. Under subcontract to TRMI, FSTech designed, tested, installed and implemented the ORT lanes. It also provided its equipment including PIPS cameras (rear only) and Idris electromagnetic in-pavement loops and OSI LaserScan overhead combined to give some redundancy to vehicle detection, tracking and classification.
Kapsch Badger readers support the electronic tolling.
All the other lanes, the non-ORTs - 4 E-ZPass and 8 cash - have gates.
As well as the Downtown mainline plaza work TRMI under their contract replaced mixed mode/manual/electronic toll equipment at other toll points for a total of 48 toll lanes. They installed nine new automatic coin machines (ACMs), new plaza and host computers and new software. They describe their relationship with FSTech (in legal terms a subcontractor to TRMI) as a collaboration making use of the best skills and equipment of each company.
The second ORT in Virginia capital area
It is the second ORT system for RMA. They opened their first on their other tollroad, the Powhite Parkway in 2008. The Powhite takes over from the short Downtown Expressway at its western end, crosses the James River and heads into the southwest suburbs.
(A VDOT Powhite Parkway Extension tollroad takes over from the Powhite as you travel south.)
Violations at the Powhite ORT lanes run around 3%, which encouraged RMA to proceed with more open road tolling.
RMA's toll revenues are running at $35.4m/yr based on 55.2m transactions, an average daily 151k.
Toll rates are low, 70c at the RMA's mainline plazas for cars, 10c more for each extra axle, hence $1.00 for tractor-trailers, and unchanged since September 2008.
The Downtown Expressway or state route 195 (VA195) which opened in 1976 is just 3.4 miles long, taking off at its eastern end from I-95 close to the state Capitol and heading northwest parallel with the James River serves the central area of the city and The Fan downtown residential district with eight sets of entries and exits before leading to the Powhite Parkway VA76 southwest and the tax-supported I-195 Beltline Expressway heading north to I-64.
Population grows but not traffic
The Richmond metro area population - as measured by three jurisdictions City of Richmond, and Chesterfield and Henrico counties - grows quite strongly being up 14% in the past decade to 830k in 2011.
Traffic however reached a peak in 2008 at 59.87m and the past three years has been stuck around 55m nearly 8% off. The Downtown Expressway peaked at 20.97m in 2008 and last year was 18.84m, just over 10% off.
In the three years since 2008 metro area population has gone from 784k to 830k, almost 6% up.
Per capita transactions on the RMA have declined from 76/year in 2008 to 66/year in 2011, about 13% down.