Thursday, January 18, 2007

'Open Road' Replaces Never-Used Toll Booths

'Open Road' Replaces Never-Used Toll Booths
By DAN JUDGE, Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

EIGHT TOLL BOOTHS at the Benicia-Martinez Bridge have been removed and will be replaced with three fast-speed lanes for motorists using the FasTrak system. (J.L. Sousa/Times-Herald)

MARTINEZ - Work crews on Wednesday were demolishing toll booths on the new Benicia-Martinez Bridge before they had collected even a single dollar.

Eight of 17 booths in the unfinished span's toll plaza were being razed to make room for the debut of the "open-road" toll system, a version of FasTrak that allows cars to zip through at highway speeds.

"This project is part of moving toll collection out of the 20th century and into the 21st," said Rod McMillan of the Bay Area Toll Authority.

The $1.2 billion Benicia-Martinez Bridge project, originally scheduled for completion in 2004, is expected to open this fall.

The toll booths being razed this week cost about $1 million to build and $250,000 to tear down, said John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The $1.1 million project will replace eight booths on the left side of the toll plaza with two express open-road tolling lanes for FasTrak-equipped vehicles. There also will be one dedicated high-occupancy vehicle lane, while nine lanes will accept both cash and FasTrak.

Open-road tolling allows FasTrak customers to continue through the toll plaza without slowing down to 25 mph as they must now.

"By keeping traffic moving at highway speeds, we can run many more vehicles through the toll plaza," said Goodwin. "It's a huge leap forward in efficiency."

The change in toll technology came after MTC, which also operates the toll authority, took over collection responsibilities from Caltrans in 2005, Goodwin said.

The open-road tolling system is part of the FasTrak Strategic Plan that the toll authority adopted in June 2006 to expand and improve electronic toll collection in the Bay Area. The plan's goals are to make the toll plazas at the region's toll bridges function more efficiently and to boost the percentage of motorists who use FasTrak.

"When the bridge and toll plaza were initially designed, it was the early '90s and even the concept of electronic collection was pretty much in its infancy," Goodwin said. "Now we are many years into FasTrak and we're taking advantage of technological improvements."

The new open-road tolling system will be implemented at a number of other locations throughout the Bay Area in late 2008, Goodwin said.

The Bay Area Tolling Authority also plans to convert more cash lanes at the Carquinez, Dumbarton, Richmond-San Rafael, San Mateo-Hayward and San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridges to FasTrak-only lanes this summer.

E-mail Dan Judge at or call 553-6831.

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