High speed Gray toll to debut April 1

NEW GLOUCESTER — Don't stop.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Invited guests, including Maine Turnpike Authority board members, legislators, local officials, contractors and MTA Executive Director Peter Mills tour the new new high-speed E-ZPass lanes in New Gloucester on Monday.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Invited guests, including Maine Turnpike Authority board members, legislators, local officials, contractors and MTA Executive Director Peter Mills pose for photographer Kurt Brown of Westbrook at the new high-speed E-ZPass lanes in New Gloucester on Monday. 

That's the single most important message Maine Turnpike Authority spokesman Dan Morin said he has for drivers who use the new high speed E-ZPass lanes beginning next week.

"It's about the convenience, the safety, the emissions," he said. "But at the same time, the most important thing is, please don't stop. Continue to go through. If you make a mistake, keep going and call us later. The last thing we want is someone trying to climb over the concrete barrier trying to pay a toll."

Morin and other turnpike staff gave local media, legislators and members of the Turnpike Authority a tour of the facility Monday. It's scheduled to open to the public officially at midnight Monday, April 1.

"I think its going to be a very big thing, especially for Lewiston-Auburn drivers," said Conrad Welzel, government relations manager for the Turnpike Authority. "Basically, they can get on in Auburn and get off in Portland without having to stop once."

The new system will let E-ZPass holders breeze through the toll booth at full speed, without slowing down. The center lanes of the turnpike's Mile 67 toll booth have been converted to the new system — one for the northbound traffic, a second for southbound traffic — with stronger cement barriers separating the E-ZPass lanes from the cash toll lanes.

Morin said authority officials hope the lanes will make the E-ZPass system more popular.

"It's one thing when you stop to pay your toll and you see a guy go through at 10 miles per hour, you don't notice it so much," Morin said. "But it's another thing when they go by at 65 — whoosh, whoosh, whoosh! They're going to say, 'Hey. I want to do that.'"

That's where the concern about stopping comes in. Absent-minded cash toll users who find themselves in the E-ZPass lane should just go with the flow and never stop. The 20-foot wide lanes don't have room to let cars pass so a stopped car runs a serious risk of getting rear-ended.

"We've had people realize they were in the E-ZPass-only lane before, and they've stopped completely, gotten out and tried to walk across the lanes to pay the toll attendant," Morin said. "We don't want them to do that ever, but it's one thing if they try to do it and the speed limit is 10 miles per hour. It's completely different if the speed limit is 65 miles per hour."

Morin said the authority has mounted a radio and advertising campaign reminding drivers not to stop and they've installed signs in both lanes leading up to the E-ZPass toll. Cash customers who do make it through can call the authority at 888-682-7277 to arrange payment later on.

Mills said the Gray barrier is the first in Maine to get the new service, but he does not expect it will be the last. The current system would work well at the West Gardiner tolls as well as York barrier, he said.

"But we have not decided where yet," Mills said.

Walter Fagerlund, a technical adviser with transportation engineers HNTB, said six cameras and three E-ZPass sensors are mounted above each high-speed toll lane.

A series of electronic loops buried under the lane sense when a vehicle begins moving through the toll area, how many axles it has and when it leaves. The license plate of every vehicle passing through the toll booth is photographed.

For E-ZPass customers, those photos are discarded immediately. Cash customers can expect a notice from the authority if they don't make contact first, Morin said.

The system has been installed for several weeks while engineers and turnpike staff tested it. They've driven through on motorcycles, in cars, trucks, tractor-trailers, buses and just about every vehicle they could imagine making sure there was room and the system worked.

They've also tested it at a variety of speeds, from cars coming to a complete stop in the area to state troopers triggering the system at 102 miles per hour.

"It has to be built with backups in place," Fagerlund said. "We can't have failure and have the system go down. It just has to work."

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Penny, that very scenerio played out.....

It was about twenty or thirty years ago, I'm pretty sure it was at the York tolls, it was the only one I have actually witnessed for myself. I was heading north and was stopped in line to pay my toll. Back then even trucks had to stop and pay cash, which made for longer lines than you normally see today. All of the sudden there was an air horn blasting steady. Before I could actually see where it was coming from, it crashed. Right into the NO. 1 Southbound toll booth. Fortunately there was no toll collector in the No. 1 booth, but the poor woman in the No. 2 booth was white as a sheet. she never dropped into their safety holes or what ever it is they have. In fact that was the first time I ever heard of the underground tunnel going under the booths. The driver fared pretty well, his truck didn't do so well. Everything from just below the seats was sheared back, it looked horrible. You could smell diesel fuel at that booth for about a month after.
I've only used a full speed drive thru toll both once, I'm afraid its only a matter of time before there's a major wreck there. To many people fail to pay attention to change. When your driving through the tolls, at 65 mph, with a forty ton truck, there's absolutely no margin of error. If someone in front gets confused, forgets where they are, and doesn't know who or what's behind them, there won't be many near misses. Hell I still encounter folks who get confused with the center turning lane on Center St. in Auburn. I hope I'm proven wrong.......

 's picture

I feel sorry for the people

I feel sorry for the people stuck in the toll booths. Hope there is good crash protection and at shift change nobody gets run over.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Toll collectors protected

Great point Penny. There's always been an underground tunnel so toll collectors can safely get to and from the booths. It runs right under the E-ZPass highway speed lanes.

 's picture

Thank you, Dan, that makes me

Thank you, Dan, that makes me feel a lot better about it.

 's picture

Can't wait!

I'm driving the carpool on April first! I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to use the extra two and a half minutes I'll gain every day.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Extra Tony Time?

Extra Tony Time?

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Time & operating cost

Tony. It's not only for the convenience but will lower future operating and maintenance costs of the E-ZPass system and help with commercial fuel costs and vehcile emissions the more people use E-ZPass tolling. The electronics for E-ZPass are over 15 years old and much like home PCs become old and functionally obsolete. The parts for E-ZPass throughout the Turnpike are no longer available and the actual operating system needed to be changed--similar to past versions of Microsoft Office, for example, which become unusable because system updates are no longer supported. To coincide with that operating system replacement and upgrade, it was more cost effective to rebuild the toll plaza itself to prepare for what tolling has, and will continue to, become. Highway speed tolling is now an option where it was not 15 years ago. It's also good for commercial trucks relative to fuel savings as they burn more fuel slowing by 40 to 50 mph hour to travel through narrower traditional toll booth lanes and then ramp back up to 55 to 65mph.

 's picture

Sorry Dan

I'm actually 100% for it. I just can't control my sarcasm sometimes. Good luck! It is true that I will be driving the crew on April 1st, because I want to be the first to try it.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Not a problem Tony

Sarcasm may be my personal favorite well from which to pull responses . . . outside of my professional duties of course . . . I appreciate any comments about Turnpike operations, including yours. It allows me to provide additional background for various issues. Enjoy the the trip through on Monday.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Get the ambulances ready.

Get the ambulances ready.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Safety

Actually Paul, crashes and incidents have been reduced nationwide in places where toll agencies have transitioned from traditional toll plazas to concrete barrier separated highway speed lanes. We're confident that will continue with the new New Gloucester toll plaza.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Maybe, but I'll just have to

Maybe, but I'll just have to wait and see. Like Frank posted earlier, when you're rolling 40 plus tons at 65 mph in a narrow corridor there is darn little margin for error.

I will be going down the fast lanes...

But I an concerned about the single'lane entries into the tool booths. I forsee many people making last minute lane changes and failing to do it. They should have had two lanes going into the tool booths with the left lane splitting into the fast lane. I guess they were prevented from widening the entry by right of way restrictions.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Thanks

Thanks Wayne. We are focused on our communications to avoid last minute lane changing. Multiple radio and print ads have been in place for the past month attempting to inform Turnpike users about the changes. We're expecting sign placement to greatly assist drivers as they position themselves for the toll plaza approach. The good part is that all toll lanes throughout the Turnpike accept E-ZPass so those drivers won't need to change if they end up in the right "Any Vehicle" lanes. Hopefully, those cash payers who end up in the E-ZPass lane will just drive through as we're asking and contact us to pay the tolls. After that first experience they'll likely be more aware of the process for subsequent trips.

Secondly, good insight by you on right-of-way issues. The New Gloucester toll was the perfect place to first implement this type of tolling. there were no footprint issues to be addressed as there were/are/may be for the York toll plaza.

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