Michael J. Davis, PBS&J's National Tolls senior group manager highlights case studies that illustrate the relationship between ORT and improved road safety
Improved safety, improved customer service (including congestion reduction), and increased cost savings are the three main benefits we typically tout for open-road tolling (ORT) systems.
We now have hard data from three of PBS&J’s tolling clients – Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise (FTE), Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority (OOCEA), and the Texas Turnpike Authority (TTA) Division of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) – that prove that conversion to ORT reduces tolling location accidents by over 60%.
Right: The President George Bush Turnpike in Texas (Courtesy of NTTA)
Let’s take a look at the data. Over the past several years, FTE has been converting a number of its existing traditional toll lanes to ORT lanes, so that we have a clear before-versus-after picture of toll plaza safety. At the seven toll plazas that now have ORT (reflecting about 174 million transactions per year), accidents have decreased by an average of 62%.
OOCEA has also been converting toll lanes to ORT since 2003, and, in 2008, processed over 120 million transactions through converted ORT plazas. The data shows that accidents at these converted plazas have decreased since 2003, on average, by over 80% compared to the number of accidents that occurred at the traditional toll plazas.
TTA’s Central Texas Turnpike System processed about 99 million toll transactions in FY2007 and 2008 combined. Slightly over half of the tolling transactions were through an ORT gantry location, and the other half were through a traditional plaza where tolls are collected in either stopped or slow-down conditions. In 2007 and 2008, there were a total of 96 accidents at the traditional toll plazas, but none at the ORT lanes, or a 100% improvement.
Most of the accidents at toll plazas involve vehicles colliding with some part of the toll plaza infrastructure – such as guardrails, bollards, attenuators, barriers, or light posts. ORT lanes are “open” for good reason. There are no such obstructions for vehicles to hit.
Some accidents – like an horrific accident in 2003 at the Hampshire-Marengo toll plaza on Illinois Interstate 90 that killed eight people – involve a vehicle rear-ending the slowed or stopped vehicles in front of it. ORT collects tolls as the vehicles pass under the gantries at highway speeds. There are no slow-downs that cause such traffic irregularities.
It’s interesting to note that many of the toll plazas reflected in the data above aren’t even fully ORT. Many of the plazas include cash lanes separated by barriers from the ORT lanes. Even with the presence of cash toll lanes, the addition of ORT lanes is providing significant safety benefits. Consider the lives and dollars that would be saved if more tolling locations were converted to ORT.
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