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  • A new system at the Hampton toll on I-95 allows vehicles with E-Z Pass to move through at regular highway speeds.

    Photo courtesy of New Hampshire DOT.
  • A new system at the Hampton toll on I-95 allows vehicles with E-Z Pass to move through at regular highway speeds.

    Photo courtesy of New Hampshire DOT.
Friday, May 28, 2010

New toll technology should ease traffic

E-ZPass made paying tolls easier, but for many motorists, slowing down to 15 mph wasn’t much of an improvement from the days of stopping to pay an attendant.

A new tollbooth should satisfy that need to keep moving and also eliminate long lines of traffic on holidays.

Starting today, the Hampton toll on Interstate 95 will feature four lanes that allow vehicles equipped with E-ZPass to pass through at highway speeds.

New electronic gadgetry in the lanes means motorists don’t have to slow to the usual 15 mph so that the E-ZPass system can verify their vehicles’ transponders.

State Department of Transportation officials hope the new system will eliminate the notorious miles-long traffic jams at the Hampton tolls that typically mar holidays.

“Everybody knows about those backups on holiday weekends,” DOT Spokesman Bill Boynton said. “Those days are pretty much over.”

Today’s opening commences a three-day test run. The state will close the four lanes Monday for final work and should reopen them permanently by June 15.

DOT wanted to open the new lanes for the busy Memorial Day weekend to lessen the frustration of motorists who are accustomed to traffic delays at the Hampton toll even with E-ZPass in effect, Boynton said.

It will also serve as a worthy test of the system because of the high number of vehicles passing through, he said.

The system, known as “open-road tolling,” is built by the Spanish firm Telvent, which has built a similar system in Texas as well as more traditional E-ZPass systems throughout the Northeast.

To install the four new lanes, the state eliminated a lane on each side of the highway. If the new lanes weren’t open this weekend, that meant holiday travelers would have been squeezing through only four available lanes, Boynton said.

The $18.3 million toll upgrade takes effect as the 60th anniversary of the Hampton Toll approaches next month, Boynton said.

The four new lanes – two each in the northbound and southbound sides – will open today at 4 a.m. DOT Commissioner George Campbell will drive through first to mark the opening.

Signs leading to the toll will inform motorists that two lanes to the left will be for open-road tolling, or ORT. Signs will stress that motorists should not slow or stop in the ORT lanes, but keep going at the posted speed limit of 65 mph.

On each side of the highway, the ORT lanes are barricaded to stand separate from the other four lanes, where E-ZPass and cash will be accepted, Boynton said.

If a motorist passes through an ORT lane without E-ZPass, cameras will identify vehicle registration, as they do now at other E-ZPass tolls. The state will mail a bill for the toll and a $1 fine, Boynton said.

Later this year, once motorists are familiar with ORT, the state will increase the fine to $25, the penalty for skipping through all E-ZPass tolls, Boynton said.

DOT has tested all sorts of possible movement through the ORT lanes, Boynton said. Cars passed through hugging the shoulder and not riding within a lane; several vehicles went through at once; and cars passed at speeds faster than 65 mph, he said.

The system recognized the presence and absence of those vehicles’ E-ZPass transponders and captured registration information, he said.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or amckeon@nashuatelegraph.com.