Massachusetts takes another step toward all electronic tolling

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Massachusetts has moved one step closer to the introduction of all electronic tolling (AET) along Interstate 90 (Massachusetts Turnpike), the Tobin Bridge and Boston tunnels, with plans to completely demolish I-90 toll plazas by the end of 2017.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) Board of Directors has acted to move ahead with the complete demolition of I-90 toll plazas by the end of 2017, and has announced that the AET system being deployed by Raytheon will ‘go live’ on October 28.

The board approved toll demolition contracts, reviewed data security and retention proposals, and instructed MassDOT to proceed with public hearings on proposed toll rates designed to be revenue neutral and minimize changes in toll charges for current commuters. MassDOT officials estimate that the agency will save about US$5m in annual operating costs with AET. The cost of designing and building the physical AET system is about US$130m, and toll plaza removal and reconstruction, excluding the Sumner Tunnel, will cost about US$133m.

While the decision on gantry locations was based on a 2012 study, and the decision to implement AET was made in 2014, MassDOT officials have been working with the predetermined gantry locations to make sure rates at the new gantries remain ‘revenue neutral’, meaning that total revenue generated both on the Western Turnpike (I-90 from the New York border to Weston) and the Metropolitan Highway System will be approximately the same as with current tolls.

Proposed rates will extend discounts for users of Massachusetts-issued E-ZPass transponders, currently available only at the Weston and Allston/Brighton tolls, to every gantry location including the Tobin Bridge and airport tunnels.

The rates being proposed for public review provide that the cost of driving from one end of I-90 to the other for E-ZPass users will drop from the current rate of US$6.60 to US$6.15. Point-to-point tolls may change because of the location of gantries selected by the previous administration, and because there will be 16 gantries with the AET system, compared with 26 toll plaza locations now. Under the proposed gantry toll rates, just over half of all drivers would see their tolls either decrease or remain the same, and another 20% of drivers would see an increase of five or ten cents per trip.

Raytheon, which is headquartered in the state, is completing the AET system installation together with a team of other Massachusetts-based companies. Vehicles equipped with existing E-ZPass RFID transponders will work on the new AETS. The system will perform image based tolling (IBT) at highway speeds on non-EZ-Pass vehicles and send a toll invoice to the registered owner of the vehicle.

“The AET system will improve driver convenience and safety, and reduce greenhouse gas-causing vehicle emissions,” said MassDOT’s highway administrator, Thomas J Tinlin.

“When toll booths have been removed, AET will allow drivers to maintain regular highway speed as they pass under AET gantries, eliminating the need for drivers to sharply reduce speed and idle in toll booth lines.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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