Friday, August 24, 2007

Bay Area's first open-road tolling at new Benicia-Martinez Bridge

Bay Area's first open-road tolling at new Benicia-Martinez Bridge
Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007

(08-23) 13:30 PDT MARTINEZ -- The big deal about the $1.2 billion Benicia-Martinez Bridge - which is expected to open this weekend - isn't the 1.6 mile-long, five-lane bridge. It's the toll plaza. And the main attraction is not what's at the plaza but what's missing.

The three left-most northbound lanes - one carpool lane and two FasTrak lanes - lack tollbooths or any sort of barrier or reason to slow down. For the first time in the Bay Area, motorists will be able to pay their tolls without taking their feet off the gas.

The two lanes, known as FasTrak Express lanes, mark the arrival in the Bay Area of open-road tolling, a new type of electronic collection that relies on overhead antennas, cameras, strobe lights and other high-tech gadgetry to read FasTrak toll tags, determine types of vehicles and deduct the appropriate tolls from prepaid accounts.

"This is the wave of the future," said John Goodwin, spokesman for the Bay Area Toll Authority.

Toll booths aren't disappearing, however - at least not anytime soon. There are no plans to tear out toll booths at other Bay Area bridges, said Rod McMillan, director of bridge oversight and operations for the Bay Area Toll Authority.

"We're going to start an evaluation of other bridges to see where (open-road tolling) might fit," he said. "But we want to get used to it here first and see how it works."

At the new toll plaza, built on the Martinez end of the span, the nine traditional lanes equipped with toll booths and electronic toll collection devices are grouped to the right. Drivers can hand over their bills and coins there or slow down and roll through, letting FasTrak collect their toll electronically.

But the lanes on the left are where toll-taking is changing. Separated from the booths by a concrete barrier, and surrounded by 20-foot shoulders, are two FasTrak Express lanes. Drivers using the lanes simply keep driving and let the new technology - mounted overhead - do the work. The speed limit is 55 mph.

Unlike existing FasTrak lanes.....

to read the rest of the article check out the San Francisco Chronicle

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