Work highlights future of E-ZPass
By Patrick Cloonan
Published: Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, 12:31 a.m.
The future of paying tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike will be in the spotlight as maintenance work takes place in Jefferson Hills.
Weather permitting, on Monday and Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission will close Express E-ZPass lanes at the Mile 52 toll plaza between exits 48 and 54 on the Mon/Fayette Expressway, also known as Turnpike 43.
The commission indicated the closure is needed for maintenance work on express lane scales and electronic toll equipment. The work was scheduled for earlier this week but was called off because of inclement weather.
It is the latest in a series of closures. Earlier this month crews went to the Gateway toll plaza at Mile 2 and the Warrendale toll plaza at Mile 31 on the turnpike's mainline.
The work involves equipment on gantries at those locations, on which E-ZPass can be read as cars and trucks roll through at 55 mph.
“What you see in front of you is what you are going to see in the mainline (turnpike system),” New Stanton-based PTC spokesman Tom Fox said.
Fox said the turnpike commission seeks to complete an all-electronic system statewide by the end of 2018.
The gantries also have cameras.
“Those are high-speed cameras that take pictures of your license plate,” Fox said.
That's for those who roll through without E-ZPass. They can anticipate bills in the mail for a toll about 25 percent larger than what is assessed from E-ZPass users, plus a surcharge.
“Since more than 70 percent of our customers pay with E-ZPass today, most customers are taking advantage of these lower rates,” Turnpike Commission CEO Mark P. Compton said on July 29, after the commission approved toll increases to take effect on Jan. 5.
Those with E-ZPass will pay 2 percent more, or for instance a hike from $1.02 to $1.04 for a car or two-axle vehicle on the jaunt between Irwin-North Huntingdon Township and Monroeville interchanges.
Those paying cash will fork over 12 percent more, or a hike from $1.40 to $1.60 for that same trek.
Similar changes can be expected on the Amos K. Hutchinson Bypass (Turnpike 66), where a 7.12-mile trip from Hempfield Township on Route 30 to Delmont on Route 22 now costs $1.40 in cash or $1.02 via E-ZPass for a two-axle car.
On Turnpike 43, however, just going one exit or 5.2 miles from Jefferson Hills to Finleyville costs $1.80 in cash or $1.36 with E-ZPass.
An E-ZPass “Go Pak” can be obtained online through the turnpike website, or at participating retailers including AAA offices, Giant Eagle, GetGo and Wal-Mart locations.
E-ZPass now operates in 15 states, including all that border Pennsylvania. However, it is not compatible with other systems, such as those used in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Those without E-ZPass still can go through conventional toll booths at most turnpike exits — but not all of them.
On Dec. 11, 2012, an all-electronic interchange was dedicated linking Route 29 with the turnpike mainline, or Interstate 76, in East Whiteland Township, Chester County, near Philadelphia.
“As we make it easier to reach our places of commerce, those places and the jobs they create will grow,” Gov. Tom Corbett said at that event.
Jobs will be affected with the transition to an electronic-only toll collection.
“The turnpike is preparing its entire organization for this, especially internally,” Fox said. “A lot of personnel are involved in toll collection.”
As found in an audit released by Jack Wagner before he left office as state auditor general in January, the turnpike commission has approximately 2,100 employees, including more than 800 involved in toll collection.
Fox said the commission will seek to accommodate the toll collectors, through retraining and tuition reimbursement. He said employees were surveyed about where else they would want to work in the turnpike system. “Attrition will be a major factor,” he said.
Back in Jefferson Hills, and elsewhere across the state, the scales that measure vehicle weight will be eliminated along with the toll booths.
Fox said tolls will be determined from the number of axles on a vehicle. Turnpike officials said no other toll road in the United States uses a weight scale.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or email@example.com.
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