Monday, February 4, 2008

High Speed Toll Plazas

There was an interesting feature puff piece in the Maine Sunday Telegram yesterday about the Maine Turnpike. The Turnpike wants to build a new high speed toll plaza somewhere between York and Wells for about $35 million. The new plaza would allow vehicles with EZ-Pass to go through the toll booths at highway speed without slowing down. The MTA says it will help alleviate the long lanes, especially in the summer months and during holiday periods as cars and trucks queue up to pay the tolls. Yes, there are EZ-Pass lanes, but vehicles must slow down to 10 miles an hour.

I must say that 35 million dollars for toll booths seems like a lot of money. But this plaza will be different in that vehicles with EZ-Pass (or Fast Lane, or possibly other electronic toll collection systems) will be able to zoom right through while remaining on the highway whereas folks still paying with cash will have to move to the right for a special area to collect the fees. The design will give both payers and Passers much more safety by keeping then generally away from each other. The design will also give more protection to the men and women in booths who collect the money.

Of course the electronics will have to be upgraded for high speed collection.

All Turnpike construction is paid for by user tolls. The tolls have been raised in recent years to raise money for widening the road and new rest area plazas. I don’t know if this newly proposed construction was included or not, but I hope so. There is a study group in progress right now examining the tolls on the ‘Pike. They really are, in my humble opinion, very unfair and need some adjustments, if only to equalize the fares along the way.

One of the biggest mysteries to me is why it costs me less to come into Maine than to leave it. If I enter the ‘Pike by any of the onramps I regularly use, I pay sixty cents. Because I am an EZ-Pass user, I can get a slight discount if I get off at local exits. But if I head South to go to New Hampshire or beyond, I must pay that $.60 to get onto the ‘Pike and then another $1.75 to get off in York. But, coming the other way, I’m charged the $1.75 to get on and can leave without further payment. There also are discrepancies among fees. For example, users around the Lewiston-Auburn area can enter and leave the road free within their areas.

A couple of interesting plot twists, which many visitors from other states don’t realize, is leaving the ‘Pike in Scarborough onto I-295 and Falmouth onto the connector to Route One and I-295 will cost the user an additional fee even though I-295 isn’t part of the Turnpike. If users coming north and want to get onto I-295 in Scarborough, the user can save that extra fee by doing another couple hundred yards to the South Portland exit, take that connector a mile or less to its I-295 onramp. It adds only a minute or two to the trip.

I think there should be a set distance fee and it be charged equally at each exit.

Back to the highway speed plaza proposed for both ends of toll portion of the ‘Pike: My wife and I have used some of these plazas on various road trips. They make using the toll roads in states which have installed them extremely easy. One just zips right through with no slowing down and continues on the way. I can see where the lack of long lines, truck engine-breaking, idling, etc., can benefit both the environment and the sanity of people living nearby. Most toll roads and bridges in the East accept EZ-Pass.


Here’s a comment with nothing to do with the Turnpike. The New England Patriots had a great season which will be remembered for a long time. It ended, unfortunately for Pats fans, with a loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. The Pats were simply outplayed. I think they never regained their commitment to task after a break following their AFC championship game. To give credits to the Giants, they learned in the last game of the year which they lost to the Patriots that New England’s deep defensive secondary was suspect. They also learned that harassing the NE quarterback would change the tempo of the game. As I said in an earlier post here I grew up as a Giants’ fan when they were the only game in town. But I would have liked to see a New England undefeated season. Congratulations to the New York Giants.


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