One of the first rules of the hospitality industry is to send customers home with smiles on their faces.

That wasn’t happening Monday afternoon on the Maine Turnpike, where thousands of visitors were stuck in 12 miles of excruciatingly slow traffic, waiting to pay their tolls before being allowed to go home.

Yes, it’s a painful Maine tradition at this point — weary, sun-blistered, mosquito-bitten tourists getting one last fleecing before leaving the state.

While nobody likes paying tolls, all those visitors to Vacationland would leave in a far happier mood if it weren’t for the extended delay at the York toll plaza.

Imagine the relief those same folks  felt as they breezed through the new “open road” toll booth on the Hampton plaza in New Hampshire at highway speeds.

Even those going through the cash-only section of the plaza reported waits measured in feet rather than miles.

“The York toll plaza is one of Maine’s most important pieces of infrastructure,” according to the Turnpike Authority’s website. “It serves as the gateway to a state in which tourism is the number one industry.”

It collects $35 million in revenue per year, about 37 percent of all the toll money collected on the ‘pike. What’s more, half of that comes from out-of-staters.

Yet, functionally and aesthetically, it stinks. It’s in a valley and on a slight curve, so visibility is bad. It’s in the middle of a wetland, otherwise known as a swamp. And it is too near an exit, which creates unsafe confusion.

But plans to move it just up the road have been met with fierce resistance from the town of York, where homeowners and town officials object to losing land and homes for a new, larger toll plaza.

They also object to the type of plaza, which would require more land to separate EZ-Pass traffic from cash customers.

They propose leaving the toll plaza at its current location and adopting an all-electronic system that would record the license plates of cash customers and bill them for their tolls.

While it would be less costly to build and operate, the system seems impractical for Maine, where so much of the traffic comes from other states and nations.

Building on the current site would cost $20 million more than the alternatives, would destroy more wetlands and would still be inferior from an engineering and traffic safety standpoint.

The choice seems clear. We don’t expect a new toll plaza by the next Fourth of July, but let’s hope the way has been cleared for a new plaza on a new site.


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