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Turnpike could go to all-electronic tolls in 5 years

By , - Last modified: March 6, 2012 at 11:38 AM

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission today released its study of all-electronic tolling, which could have the toll road operator moving to a system without cash or human collectors in about five years.

The commission started the study a year ago to look at the feasibility of all-electronic tolls. The study estimates the turnpike would save about $40 million annually on operating and maintenance costs by continuing to use E-ZPass and moving to video collection for all other vehicles. Video collection takes a photo of the license plate and sends a toll bill to the vehicle owner.

In the first year of electronic tolls, the commission would have net toll revenue of $5.2 million and that could double in the following decade, spokesman Carl DeFebo said. The study also says electronic tolls would reduce congestion at turnpike entrances, reduce resulting pollution and make the roadway safer.

The five-year implementation timetable is an aggressive one, and the commission still has to finalize multiple benchmarks including legislative approval, infrastructure analysis, tolling system integration, agreements with other states to share license plate databases and organizational changes, DeFebo said.

"Without one or all of these milestones, it's not a given that all-electronic tolls would immediately come online in that timeframe," he said.

The commission has committed to the process and is beginning a search for a program management firm that would oversee the milestones and conversion, he said. The commission could hire that firm by the fall, he said.

A lingering issue will be the organizational changes, including what becomes of the turnpike's 850 toll collectors represented by the Teamsters union.

The union and commission continue to negotiate for a three-year contract renewal, also a process that began last year, DeFebo said. All-electronic tolling is not necessarily being discussed in those negotiations because it's five years out, but DeFebo said he could not confirm the content of the talks.

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