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Pennsylvania Turnpike switch to electronic toll collection on track

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Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Turnpike drivers will no longer rummage for cash to pay fares under an all-electronic toll collection plan officials say could be in place within five years.

Turnpike Commission Acting CEO Craig Shuey told state lawmakers on Tuesday that the agency is moving forward with replacing toll booths along the 553-mile turnpike with overhead gantries.

Tolls would automatically be deducted from E-ZPass accounts. License plates of other vehicles would be photographed so bills could be sent to their owners.

Shuey called the move one of the most ambitious projects of its kind nationally and the most significant change in how the agency operates since it opened in 1940.

The Turnpike Commission hired HNTB, an infrastructure consulting firm with offices across Pennsylvania, to move forward with the implementation in July.

Eliminating toll booths would be more convenient and safer for drivers, who would no longer have to stop or slow down to pay a toll. It would cut down on emissions from cars idling in lines, said Carl DeFebo, a turnpike spokesman.

But the move could cost $250 million up front, according to a preliminary estimate, and would eliminate 700-plus toll collectors.

Union officials declined to comment on the move on Tuesday.

Henry Snedecker, 69, who was stopped at the New Stanton rest plaza on his way back to Findlay, Ohio, has been using electronic toll payments for years. He travels the Pennsylvania Turnpike to visit his family in Delaware. He switched to the electronic pay system when he lived in Illinois and has used it seamlessly in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.

“It's so convenient,” he said. “I don't have to worry about having cash.”

Truck driver Ryan Corcoran, 27, spent the past week dropping off loads between his hometown of Chicago and various locations on the East Coast. His truck is equipped with an E-ZPass, allowing him to zip through tolls quickly.

“It's faster than paying with cash,” he said.

More than two-thirds of turnpike drivers — about 68 percent — pay tolls electronically with E-ZPass, DeFebo said.

As the difference grows between cash and E-ZPass fares, more users are signing up for the electronic system. Average turnpike tolls will be about 25 percent cheaper for E-ZPass users in January, DeFebo said.

Trib Total Media staff writer Amanda Dolasinski and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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