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A Hummel Report Investigation

Tolling Technology

As Rhode Island navigates its way toward the implementation of a tolling plan for trucks using the state’s highways, D.O.T. officials here could borrow a page from their neighbors to the north: The New Hampshire Turnpike system is one of the oldest in the country and features state-of-the art tolling technology that has cut down administrative costs and improved accuracy. This week Jim Hummel concludes our two-part series, hitting the road for a tutorial on how it all works.

Click here for Part 1 of this report.

SCRIPT

For more than 60 years motorists passing through New Hampshire have been paying to use portions of the state’s highway system - and as technology has evolved they’ve used various forms of currency to do it.
The New Hampshire Turnpike System developed in the early 1950s because of congestion and lack of money. In 1955 the first automatic toll machine in the country was installed at Merrimack. EZ Pass arrived a decade ago, and open road tolling - using just gantries and no toll booth or collectors - first went online in May of 2010.
Bill Boynton of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation has had a front-row seat for the transition to transponders.
Boynton: ``Our big concern was when we pushed the button would it work? And that was not the problem, it worked from the start - just people getting used to the idea of electronic tolling, privacy concerns was also a part of it that we dealt with in law and now it’s very much just an accepted part of travel in New Hampshire.’’
As Rhode Island looks to install its own tolling system for trucks under the Rhode Works program, state officials here could learn a lot from their neighbor to the north, which has one of the oldest turnpike systems in the country. The technology in New Hampshire and other states has taken a huge step from the introduction of the EZ Pass system in the late 1980s.
Boynton: ``Most people don’t like the idea of tolling, yet a toll is a user fee; you’re paying for use of the highway. In our state most of our turnpike system is in the southern part of the state where the heavier traffic volume is, where the commuters are and it’s become an accepted part of travel. Now does that mean people divert and don’t go onto other roads? They can, but you know time is money and if you want to spend an extra 10 minutes going through traffic signals and two-lane highways, then that’s your choice, but that hasn’t been reflected in the increasing traffic volumes that we see on a regular basis in our turnpike system.’’
Boynton says the technology is sophisticated and nearly foolproof.
Boynton: ``Our gantries are 99.95 percent accurate. There’s three components to it: as you’re approaching the plaza there’s the identification of the vehicle at speeds between zero and 100 miles per hour - this gantry can identify the vehicle, the vehicles can be as little as three feet apart. Then there’s the classification of the vehicle, as to what kind of vehicle it is. How many axles does it have, how many tires, then it becomes part of the enforcement: is the read there for the transponder. If not, then that triggers the cameras for front and rear pictures, high intensity pictures, of the license plates. All of that takes place within a very few seconds. In addition to the gantry, there’s loops in the pavement, it’s pretty sophisticated in terms of all of this stuff that has to work. And occasionally we have maintenance, but in terms of accuracy and consistency I can’t remember an instance where we’ve had a day where somebody called and said something’s not working at the ORT lane. They’re like 100 percent accurate 24/7.’’

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