Two I-95 toll plaza upgrade efforts - York ME, Newark DE - compared

November 15, 2009
By Peter Samuel

The tale of two I-95 toll plaza rebuilds make an interesting comparison. There are similarities and differences. Similarities are that in both states the Turnpike is the major east coast highway artery and the major link to adjoining states. Both are the major toll plazas in the state, generating significant toll revenues. Both handle majority out-of-state traffic, and both are concerned at potential revenue losses from highspeed tolling.

Both are presently old stop-to-pay cash or single lane transponder roll-through toll plazas without any highspeed toll lanes. Both are heavily congested at weekends and holidays and produce moderate to serious congestion at other times.

Both are difficult to modernize with highway speed tolling because they are built on a curve and not far from an interchange and cross road bridges, though the Maine toll plaza has the sharper curvature and the closer ramps. Both are old and seriously deteriorated, though the York ME plaza is in worse shape. The York plaza is located in swampy ground and the structures were never given adequate foundations.

There are clear differences.

Traffic volumes at Newark Delaware plaza are roughly double those at York Maine - c 100k/day average and 50k/day total traffic, and one-directional hourly peaks of 8k DE and 6k ME. The Turnpike in Delaware is 4+4 travel lanes while that in Maine is 3+3 travel lanes.

DelDOT old hands at ORT, Maine ORT virgins

Delaware DOT has some advantages over the Maine Turnpike. They have lots of in-house expertise in highspeed electronic tolling and in handling the violations that go with it. Maine has never done it and relies heavily on consultants - HNTB.  Too heavily, we said in an editorial - see http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/4441

DelDOT were the pioneers of open road tolling in the east coast on their state Route 1 (DE1) tollroad, converting their Biddles Corner toll plaza to ORT through the middle, cash on the sides way back in 1999. http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/2480

They got in ahead of the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Pennsylvania Turnpikes in adjacent states. Then they converted the DE1 Dover toll plaza to ORT in May 2004.  So they have two plaza conversions and about ten years experience of operating open road tolling.

DelDOT and Maine Turnpike have had very different approaches to siting. DelDOT are rebuilding on their existing site. There has been virtually no public opposition to their plans as a result.

The staggered arrangement of cash plazas allows more cash lanes in a narrower width. Toll collectors in Delaware will have to walk a bit further but they don't have to acquire extra land.

Fierce opposition Maine, yawns Delaware

Maine's efforts to move the site of the toll plaza have led to fierce local opposition, repeated studies, and restudies. They still don't have an accepted plan with an accepted site.

Relative to traffic Maine's plan is far more ambitious. The three open road toll lanes each direction match the capacity of the travel lanes, so at some point the cash lanes could simply be barriered off and their tolling would go all-electronic.

AET is scaling up ORT to bill the good guys with the ORT bad guys system

The bad guys wanting to evade the toll will go through the open road toll lanes anyway, avoiding the cash lanes to the side. All-electronic tolling simply means scaling up the ORT violations system to bill the good guys without transponders who want to pay with the same camera based optical character recognition and reference to data bases linking license plate numbers to owners' names and addresses.

Toll plaza capacity v roadway capacity

In a chart nearby we've got a very simplified comparison of capacity at each toll plaza assuming 2000 vehicles/hour at highway speed and 400 vehicles/hour as the average of cash and single toll lane roll-through with transponders. We compare toll plaza capacity with roadway capacity at 2000 veh/hour per lane or 6000 veh/hour per direction in the case of 2x3 lane Maine Turnpike and 8000 veh/hr in the case of the 2x4 lane Delaware Turnpike.

Existing toll plaza capacity on this basis is about two-thirds of what it should be at both old toll plazas 5200/8000 = 0.65 DE and 4000/6000 = 0.67 ME.

Maine's plans give them a huge 90% improvement in toll plaza capacity versus Delaware's much more modest 30% improvement. Maine ends up with toll plaza capacity 27% greater than the roadway (1.27), whereas Delaware is still 15% short (0.85).

Delaware will get heavy use of their 2x2 open road toll lanes right away. By contrast Maine with half the traffic and 2x3 open road toll lanes will only get light use of them most of the time. So long as transponder penetration is limited to 60% of their traffic, and the rest is required to move to the right to use the cash lanes even a maximum flow in the roadway will leave the open road toll lanes 40% blow capacity.

The assumption in Delaware is that cash toll collection has about five to ten years life and so their plan is focussed on an immediate if partial remedy. In Maine they see cashless being 20 or more years off so they are trying for a longer lasting solution. The problem is they haven't got political acceptance.

TOLLROADSnews 2009-11-15

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