The Case for Open Road Tolling

It's safer, greener, and it just might pay for itself.

Photo by Dan4th Nicholas on Flickr

Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration moved closer to replacing the state’s toll takers with automated open road tolling, reports the Boston Herald, and anyone interested in a state initiative that makes driving safer and greener should cheer the move.

Patrick’s transportation officials inserted a clause into their proposed contract with the union representing toll takers that gives the state the right to “eliminate manual toll collection,” according to the Herald‘s Hillary Chabot. (See an update below.) The feisty tabloid seems surprisingly ambivalent about the idea of eliminating well-paid union workers, mostly because constructing open road tolling would cost the state money. But in the June 2009 issue of the magazine, Paul Kix made the case for open road tolling—a system where cars drive at highway speeds while an electronic reader picks up their Easy Pass device or sends a bill to the address to which the car is registered. Kix made three smart points about it:

1. It’s safer. “Open-road tolling is safer than the Pike’s current Fast Lane/cash hybrid, since no one cuts anyone else off to get to the lane they need,” Kix writes.

2. It’s greener “… because cars are never stuck idling for four freakin’ hours on, say, Easter Sunday, inching toward one of the few toll takers who actually deigned to show up.”

3. It could save us money long-term. Installation might be pricey, but it will pay for itself. Consider that a Romney administration official calculated that $0.30 of every $1 we pay in tolls goes exclusively to covering the salary of the person to whom we hand the money. “Dallas’s toll-road authority, for one, estimates its decision to eliminate human toll takers will save it an average of $10 million a year,” Kix says.

Negotiations will undoubtedly be messy, but anyone anxious for high-tech solutions to our environmental problems and traffic headaches should welcome the continued attempts from the Patrick administration.

Update: The Globe chimes in with more details on Patrick’s plan. Important takeaways: Relating to our money-saving point, Patrick claims that the $100 million it will cost to construct the new tolls will pay for itself in three years. Also, Transportation Secretary Richard Davey says they still don’t have a timetable. And finally, the Globe gives a gracious hat-tip to the Herald for breaking the news.