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BOSTON (AP) — Motorists would no longer have to stop or even slow down to pay their tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike under a $100 million plan being considered by Gov. Deval Patrick's administration.
The state hopes to phase out most or all toll booths and replace them by 2015 with a system that automatically tolls drivers as they exit the highway or pass through major interchanges, Patrick and state transportation officials said Monday.
The governor confirmed to reporters that the tolling plan is being assembled but key details are still being worked out and a contract has not yet been awarded. The system would save the state money in the long run and make the state's east-west highway more convenient for drivers, he said.
Most of the more than 400 full- and part-time toll collectors now employed by the state would lose their jobs under the plan, though some could be retrained for other positions within government.
"This isn't about the toll takers, it's about having as modern and efficient a transportation system as possible," Patrick said. "We will make as dignified and as soft a landing for those people as possible."
The Boston Herald first reported the toll plan on Monday.
Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey said the state currently collects about $300 million in tolls each year, but it costs up to $55 million to run the toll collection system. The $100 million he estimates it would cost to implement an all-electronic or "open" tolling system would more than pay for itself in reduced maintenance and personnel costs, he said.
"The bottom line is, technology has overtaken where we are today in our toll collection ... and we need to respond to that," Davey said.
Motorists who use the Massachusetts Turnpike, Boston Harbor tunnels and Tobin Bridge currently have the option of paying cash at toll plazas or joining the E-ZPass system — formerly known as Fast Lane. E-ZPass customers, equipped with a transponder in their vehicles, pass through designated toll lanes that electronically record their tolls and charge their monthly accounts.
But even drivers that use E-ZPass are required to slow down — generally to 15 mph — as they pass through the plazas.
All-electronic or open tolling takes the concept a step further by removing the physical toll booths so drivers can pass through at normal speeds. Most existing systems use overhead sensors to record the transponder signals of passing cars, or tolling cameras that capture images of license plates and send monthly bills to the registered owners of vehicles.
While states like Florida have completely eliminated cash tolls on several highways, including a stretch of the Florida Turnpike, other states have created designated open tolling lanes for I-PASS users while still maintaining an area where motorists can stop and pay in cash.
While it's not yet clear what type of system Massachusetts might use, Patrick said Monday plans do not include raising tolls to pay for it or charging tolls on highways that are currently untolled, such as Interstate 93 from New Hampshire to Boston.
"The first step is to improve what we have today," Davey said.
However, the governor did not completely rule out the possibility of further tolling as part of a proposed overhaul of the state's transportation financing system that the administration is expected to unveil when the Legislature reconvenes next month.