Virginia to join E-ZPass IAG, at last

August 29, 2003

Virginia is joining E-ZPass. The state Governor Mark Warner personally announced the move Aug 26. That means the state's 230k 'Smart Tag' transponders will be usable in E-ZPass facilities which include the great toll facilities of states to the north including MD, DE, NJ, PA, NY, MA and soon NH and ME as well as West Virginia, and later likely IN and IL, and perhaps eventually OH. In turn some 10m+ transponders of the E-ZPass Inter Agency Group will be usable at toll facilities in VA.

Interoperability should be achieved by the fall of 2004 VDOT commissioner Phil Shucet said in a VDOT announcement. Cost is estimated at $3.5m to $4.5m. Virginia's statewide Smart Tag system uses Mark IV equipment identical to that used in the E-ZPass systems so few changes will be needed at the front end. Interoperability is matter of enhancing host computers to handle the 'white lists' of valid accounts about fifty fold. The Virginia system will have to look through a list of some 10m+ accounts in good standing versus 250k now. Signage and informational materials are also needed.

An added benefit of IAG membership should be some cost savings from the buying power of the IAG and easier access to its technology development.

VDOT itself has three toll facilities: Coleman Bridge (VA-17), Dulles Toll Road (VA-267), and Powhite Parkway Extension (VA-76). Others that participate in electronic tolling under the state's Smart Tag brand are: City of Chesapeake Chesapeake Expressway (VA-168), investor-owned Dulles Greenway (VA-267), Richmond Metropolitan Authority's Downtown Expressway (VA-195), Powhite Parkway (VA-76) and Boulevard Bridge and the not-for-profit owned Pocahontas Parkway (VA-895). The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel does not have electronic toll collection.

Fees for Virginia joining the IAG are $250k and annual fees are $70k. VDOT has been doing electronic tolling (ET) since early 1997 when they began on the Dulles greenway and Toll Road, but decided against joining E-ZPass because its tollroads were mainly local facilities - commuter routes - that had little interaction with the E-ZPass system. That has gradually changed. The opening in May 2001 of the Chesapeake Expressway (VA-168) the major route to the Outer Banks beach resorts introduced a whole legion of E-ZPass users from NY, NJ and the like. Steve Andriuk manager of the expressway became a persistent advocate of Virginia joining E-ZPass. The Pocahontas Parkway (VA-895) right off I-95 also brings in a few E-ZPass users from afar. Maryland was long a member of E-ZPass but neglected its obligations to create interoperability. However it did achieve that starting Oct 2001. With Baltimore's two toll tunnels accepting E-ZPass there were more E-ZPass transponders traveling on the northern Virginia toll facilities just 80km (50mi) away. The general increase in E-ZPass usage in Pennsylvania and NY/NJ also increased the numbers of vehicles traveling on Virginia highways.

A further issue was Virginia's desire to keep its Smart Tag branding, though this seems to have been a furphy. Massachusetts has its own Fast Lane brand and purple E-ZPass logos in the corner of its signs. No reason why Virginia couldn't do something similar.

In the end though it took an initiative from the Governor's office to tip the balance. The new Governor Mark Warner (Dem) simply decided it would be popular with Virginia motorists for them to be able to use their transponders out of state. TRnews 2003-08-29

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