WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – As the Massachusetts Department of Transportation continues to test all of its electronic tolling software on I-90 this summer, residents are encouraged now to open up an individual E-ZPass account.
Once the electronic tolling software goes live, all 24 existing toll plazas will be demolished and the connecting interchanges will be reconfigured to enable more efficient connections to connecting roadways. A previously scheduled go live date in October will occur if software testing goes as planned before September.
“The majority of the toll support buildings are proposed to be demolished with the exception of select facilities that may remain for purposes of roadway maintenance or operations,” said Ryan Grannan-Doll, deputy communications director, Mass DOT. “The toll support building at exit 3 in Westfield is to be demolished.”
Grannan-Doll noted that the overall traffic pattern at exit 3 will be maintained after the plaza is demolished.
“There will be some realignment work to the approach to the intersection with Route 202,” he said.
All electronic tolling (AET) gantries, placed over the road and equipped with sensors, will electronically register tolls from vehicles that pass under any gantry. Drivers will no longer have to stop at a toll plaza and will be able to maintain a safe highway speed. During the testing phases of AET, drivers may notice a brief camera flash as they pass under a gantry.
If a vehicle has an E-ZPass transponder, the toll is automatically charged to the customer’s E-ZPass account that the transponder is registered to. If a vehicle does not have an E-ZPass transponder, cameras mounted on the gantry will capture a photograph of the vehicle’s license plate and the registered owner of the vehicle will be sent an invoice. Customers who do not use an E-ZPass transponder will pay a “pay-by-plate” surcharge in addition to the toll cost.
E-ZPass accounts can be opened online as well as at RMV locations including Springfield, Greenfield, and Pittsfield.Tina Gorman, executive director of the Westfield Council on Aging, recently announced that MassDOT representatives will be at the Westfield Senior Center July 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to assist with applications and distribution of free transponders. To apply for an E-ZPass transponder, applicants must show their car registration, have $20 to open an account (check or credit card), and a photo identification such as a driver’s license.
MassDOT notes on its website that the “primary reasons” for transitioning to AET is to increase safety for the traveling public so there will be no dramatic speed reductions and congestion which occurs now at toll plazas and also to reduce vehicle emissions.
Additionally, MassDOT has hired a consultant to study pricing options for AET, and will be conducting a public input process to gather feedback before establishing a pricing structure. Once the public input process is completed, members of the MassDOT Board will review the pricing and vote on the pricing structure.
The “goal” according to MassDOT is to keep tolls “revenue-neutral.” An example cited is an E-ZPass driver traveling from the New York border on I-90 to Boston will pay the same amount as what the driver currently pays. In some instances, some drivers will pay no toll if they enter and exit I-90 between certain gantry locations. Some of these locations are in the Springfield and Worcester areas.
Grannan-Doll noted that the AET system is expected to reduce toll collection costs from $56 million annually to $36 million annually.
As the MassDOT transitions to AET, there are approximately 400 part-time or full-time employees who will be impacted when all electronic tolling goes live.
“The top 200 most senior toll collectors are being offered the opportunity to take an Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP) or elect a cash retention stipend in lieu of the ERIP,” said Grannan-Doll.
The ERIP, which was authorized by the Legislature, allows an eligible employee to add a total of five years to either their age or years of service for purposes of determining their Commonwealth retirement allowance, according to Grannan-Doll.
“Employees who were hired after Jan. 31, 2014 and who are not eligible for ordinary retirement and who work to the end of manual toll collection will receive an alternate cash stipend based on their years of service,” he said.
Employees who want to continue to work at MassDOT after manual toll collection ends can apply for jobs as they become available and will receive priority consideration if qualified, added Grannan-Doll.
“MassDOT has committed to posting and filling 86 positions for which toll collectors should be able to meet the minimum entrance requirements,” he said.MassDOT has also committed $750,000 in funds for career training and educational opportunities.“One hundred employees have been certified through the Career Services Centers and will be eligible for up to $7,500 in tuition costs,” said Grannan-Doll. “Some employees have already participated in employment classes on topics such as job interview skills and resume writing.”While AET is expected to reduce toll collection costs annually, all tolling revenue is required to be spent on maintenance and operation of I-90 under Massachusetts General Law, according to Grannan-Doll.