The Texan agency that operates toll roads in the rapidly growing Houston Metropolitan area has revealed some details about the technology that has won one of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association’s (IBTTA) 2016 Toll Excellence Awards.
Gary Trietsch, executive director of the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) was presented with the 2016 Toll Excellence Award in the Technology Category during the IBTTA’s 84th Annual Meeting and Exhibition in Denver, Colorado. HCTRA’s innovative Rapid Alert System (RAS) technology was developed to enhance toll enforcement efforts, by identifying and alerting law enforcement officers to prohibited vehicles on Harris County’s toll road system. The agency operates 127 miles (204km) of toll roads around the Houston metropolitan area, including the Sam Houston Tollway, Tomball Tollway, Hardy Toll Road, Westpark Tollway, Katy Managed Lanes and the Ship Channel Bridge. HCTRA does not receive local, state or federal tax money, and is an Enterprise Fund of Harris County, with the agency relying on revenue from road users to fund operations, maintenance, debt service and future projects.
Texas state law requires drivers to pay a toll at the time of the transaction or be responsible for the resulting violation, which may include fees and fines. This means there is no toll-by-plate facility available, with cash or EZ TAG transponder the only methods of payment accepted. If a driver fails to make a payment for any reason, they have a ‘Missed a Toll’ option, although this may only be used once a year.
The uniqueness of the RAS system is that it identifies prohibited vehicles on the road and generates a real-time electronic alert, which includes an image of the vehicle, location, direction of travel and the amount of money owed in toll violations and fees. The alert is electronically routed to HCTRA’s custom-developed computer-aided dispatch software, called the Incident Management System (IMS). The IMS also automatically sends the RAS alerts, including a color violation image, to the deputies’ laptop computers in their patrol vehicles, based on their proximity to the prohibited vehicle. They can also click on the image to enlarge the photo for better viewing.
Toll road deputies can now strategically position themselves and use the IMS system on their laptops to configure custom toll violation alerts based on tolling locations and direction of travel. This program is also augmented by 10 mobile license plate recognition (LPR) cameras mounted on patrol vehicles.
HCTRA has been at the forefront of innovative approaches in the tolling industry. In 2005 it won the IBTTA’s Operations Award for building the USA’s first-of-its-kind all-electronic toll facility, and in 2009 it won the same award for its Wrong Way Detection System, which continues to save lives.
Accepting this most recent award, Trietsch said, “This innovative program has been a great tool to our organization, and enhances the high level of service we strive to provide to all of our toll road drivers. I am proud of the team members who spearheaded this project.”