2018-03-29 / Editorial

Let’s eliminate the toll booths on Maine Turnpike

The Right Side
by Mike Coleman

The Maine Turnpike is adding or plans to add open road tolling to several interchanges including at the southern end in York. This will allow vehicles with an EZ-Pass to safely maintain highway speed as they pay their toll at those toll plazas. Other vehicles without an EZ-Pass will have to stop as they always have and pay a cash toll. The estimated cost of the York project alone is more than $40 million. While these changes will greatly improve traffic flow and improve safety at these toll collection points, it is not the best we can do. Anyone who has recently driven on any toll road in Massachusetts including the Tobin Bridge, the Boston tunnels or the Mass Pike can attest the elimination of toll booths have reduced delays and made travel easier in the Bay State.

The planned toll plaza project in York, just north of Exit 7, includes a move of the toll plaza farther north where the road is straighter. This is expected to improve safety at this important revenue source for the Turnpike. One of the holdups to this upgrade involves a lawsuit by the town of York. Residents are upset about increased noise that will be experienced in a primarily residential section of town.

Tolls are an important source of revenue to pay for maintenance and improvements on our super highways nationwide and here in Maine. Rather than spread costs among all taxpayers, some of whom may never use the Turnpike, it depends upon users to fund the necessary expenses. It is a fair system but not as efficient as it could be if toll booths were eliminated.

Many states that have toll roads have eliminated or are eliminating traditional toll booths where motorists must stop and pay a cash toll in favor of electronic tolling or pay by plate. Most of us are familiar with EZ-Pass. Users prepay an account and have the toll automatically deducted from their account as they use the turnpike. An EZ-Pass from Maine may be used to pay tolls as far west as Illinois and as far south as North Carolina. A technology that is employed in Massachusetts alongside the EZ-Pass system is pay-by-plate. A camera records the license plate of a vehicle passing through a toll point and sends a bill to the owner if that vehicle does not have a pre-paid account. If the Maine Turnpike had this system available, it would spend $35 million less on the York toll plaza project. This would also eliminate tie-ups at the southern end of the Maine Turnpike and greatly improve safety.

Rep. Lydia Blume (D-York) sponsored bill LD 1779 to require the Maine Turnpike to employ electronic tolling exclusively wherever it makes upgrades or improvements at any point where it collects tolls. Unfortunately, her bill received a unanimous Ought Not To Pass report from the Legislature’s Transportation Committee and is dead for this legislative session. Among the co-sponsors was only one Republican, Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester.

This bill or a similar bill should be introduced in the next Legislature, which will be seated after this November’s election. It is an idea that deserves bi-partisan support. It will make travel in our state safer and more efficient.

Mike Coleman is a former town councilor in Old Orchard Beach and was a member of the Maine Republican State Committee from 2010 through 2017 where he served as budget chairman under three separate state chairmen. He represented Maine at the Republican National Convention as an alternate in 2012. He recently left the Republican Party and became an Independent.

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